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Coconut War, The

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Documentary about the Bouganville islanders struggling for independence from Papua New Guinea and Austrailia.

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      23.01.2001 20:15
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      The Coconut war documentary shown on ITV during the second week of January this year bringing the Bouganville islanders ecological struggle to our television screens. It portrays subsequent events on the island following the placing of blockades by Australia and Papua New Guinea, and how the villagers overcame the adversity and learned to live from the land. The programme focuses on Francis and how his people were forced to live from the land or face the prospect of starvation or annihilation from disease, and how the blockade actually saved his people from certain ecological disaster and destruction. This documentary allows the viewer an insight into the 9 year battle between the islanders and the authorities. 1998 saw the ceasefire and disbanding of the blockade, but not before an eighth of the islands population were either killed or died from disease. The war begins as large companies mine the valuable resources on the island, copper to be precise mined from Panguna, and a flourishing business it was. Finally the people of the island decided that they had enough. They were not capable in the 16 years of protests to prevent a massive chasm six km wide and four km deep being scored into the picturesque scenery. This was brought to a head when one worker broke in and stole sufficient explosives, to destroy significant company property and installations. That worker was Francis Ona, who was hailed as a hero and soon proclaimed to be the president of Bouganville for his actions and his beliefs. A God fearing preacher man he was loved and respected by the majority of the population. The years that ensued saw the BRA(Bouganville Revolutionary Army) take up arms, many of which had been left from the second world war, to fight the PNGDF (Papua New Guinea Defence Force) for their island and their independence. Papua New Guineas defence was to blockade the island allowing no goods in nor out, possibly ho
      ping to starve the enemy out. This, in practice had quite the reverse effect. The people of the island generally had one goal, independence and the right to have their own Government. Afraid of the consequences the PNGDF rounded approximately 35-40,000 of the locals and herded them into care centres that were viewed by many as prisons and where hideous human rights crimes were inflicted upon them. Other islanders were forced to tag along with the BRA and were continually moved from pillar to post in order to protect them. Many spent months hiding on the jungle trails and evading capture, and many died during this exodus. Far from being all-violent, the programme shows in depth how the islanders learned to become self sufficient. Each household had their own “garden”, where the soil was rich and produced plentiful vegetables, staple foods and fruits. Their food problem had not only been solved they had learned many things on the way. Not reliant on the outside world allowed the people of this island to adapt to their surroundings, and soon the villages were all lit by hydropower constructed by salvaged parts of vehicles and machinery scrounged or ”borrowed” from the companies abandoned townships. Some of the ideas were ingenious and innovative to say the very least. 15 dry coconuts when correctly processed could provide a litre of prime quality oil capable of fuelling the many abandoned vehicles on the island, Francis commented on how the big petrol companies would be no longer in the equation and that the coconut oil actually allowed the vehicles to travel up to twice the distance of conventional diesel oil. The coconuts have been a vital part of the success of the nation. When ground and burnt it is claimed that it can repel mosquitoes and other insects. The husks can be used as fuel, allowing the trees to continue bearing the fruit and continuing the circle of life. Coconut soap, oil, milk a
      nd food are to name a few of the usual uses, but thriftiness ensured that none of the tree was wasted. Baskets and ropes are woven from the leaves. During the war times medicine had to be improvised, the islanders re-discovered the medicinal properties of the plants and herbs around them, which were utilised to the full. The BRA learned new aspects of warfare, again using the land to their advantage, fragrant herbs were placed along know routes used by the PNGDF, their tracks were smelt miles away alerting the BRA to their presence. Australia, it was alleged funded the arms to the PNGDF as well as the helicopters that deposited the civilian victims of the St Valentines Day massacre into the sea in 1990. In 1997 Papua New Guinea and Australia, bound by the terms of the Defence co-operation program, employed mercenaries to take Bouganville by force if necessary with a contract for $31 million. Outraged by this the people banded together, both military and civilians, and drove the mercenaries out before any more bloodshed. Jubilation followed as the Prime minister stood down, and finally the Bouganville islanders were allowed to involvement in an election, something unseen in Bouganville for over 10 years. In a public apology, the new Prime minister Bill Skate apologised and asked for the islander’s forgiveness. On the 23rd January 1998 a peace treaty was signed by all parties, and is currently still holding. Francis Ona did not stand for president in the next election, his view appeared to be that of everyone wanted the same goals, and it mattered not who represented them, as long as the islanders wishes were forwarded by a competent person. The producers of this documentary have been very careful to ensure that their programme is as unbiased as possible. To this day there is no mining on the island which is now in receipt of some Government funding. I felt it to be a very harrowing a
      ccount of war between nations, yet it was gripping. In true ITV style it is bound to repeated, I suggest you watch it. Highly recommended viewing. My last comment, How would you feel if someone came and inhabited your house,and took everything of value, expelling you to live in the garden?.

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