THE FATES of those who went missing during the Bougainville Civil War will finally be investigated, more than 10 years after the peace agreement was signed.
The Autonomous Government of Bougainville (ABG) adopted a policy to investigate the whereabouts of missing people on 30 September, with president John Momis declaring the time had come for a proper investigation.
“These are the voices of the voiceless,” Dr Momis said
“We have waited far too long, but this is now a major priority of the ABG.”
The conflict, which began in 1988 and ended when PNG troops began to withdraw from the island in 1998, left between 15,000 and 20,000 Bougainvilleans dead.
ABG minister for public service Joel Banam first raised the issue in the Bougainville parliament in 2011 and later reiterated the importance of letting “spirits finally come to rest and stop interfering with all of us”.
The new policy acknowledges the ongoing distress being suffered by relatives of missing persons, and highlights the need for Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and other nations to work together to clarify the fate of those still missing
The policy will act as a coordinating mechanism to bring all stakeholders together and implement corresponding decisions.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will provide technical expertise and act as a neutral intermediary where necessary.
ICRC representative in Bougainville Tobias Koehler said the organisation was ready to support the process in any way.
“But it must be driven by people in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, to make sure the right solutions are found,” Mr Koehler said.
“The ABG decision does not deal with accountability or compensation, focusing on a purely humanitarian approach in the interests of families and communities.”
Mr Koehler said the policy defined missing persons as individuals, regardless of their military or other affiliation, whose remains have not been returned to the families or who have been reported missing as a result of the civil war.
The policy will now be discussed with the Papua New Guinea government in order to and to bring all parties together to start implementing the policy.
“This is not the time for finger pointing, this is the time to straighten out our home,” President Momis said.