The reconciliation process had to be extended across Bougainville at the political level and required extensive negotiations between different Bougainvillean groups and then between the Bougainvillean leadership and the government of Papua New Guinea. The achievements marked by the Burnham Declaration needed consolidating. In the first meeting of the newly elected Bougainville People's Congress in Arawa, leaders worked to reconcile their differing views on the future of Bougainville. But further reconciliation was needed with those outside the process. A new coalition of former enemies finally agreed a common negotiating position that ultimately led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement of August 2001. Since then, there has been a renewed focus on the ground, ensuring continued reconciliation between individuals and groups so as to enable the restoration of peace and harmony on Bougainville.
However, the benefits of peace must reach the widows and orphans, not just the elite. The institutions that we establish under the Bougainville Autonomous Government must be designed to consolidate the reconciliation that has been achieved. Those institutions must address the different aspects of reconciliation that are outlined in the Agreement.
It was September 2001. Once again I found myself walking across hills and valleys to attend a reconciliation ceremony.
The enemy clans entered the church from opposite ends. The choir sang and the procession slowly advanced. The ceremony started as a simple Catholic service. The poster on the right side read 'the victims', and on the opposite side read 'the offenders'. In between them was a Crucifix with the words 'the Prince of Peace'.
They stood there for a while. Simon, a young ex-combatant, addressed the elderly chief on the other side. He said, 'Father I killed your son, I was defending the government of PNG and your son was defending his government too. I am sorry for what I did to you and I beg your forgiveness.' The elderly chief, looking calm and dignified, replied, 'I have forgiven you. Please son, I also beg your forgiveness because when I picked up my dead son, I saw not only bullets, but also a rock stuck in his mouth and I was struck dumb by my hatred of you. You see he was the first born son of my inexperienced days. Please release me from my hatred.' Then Simon replied again, 'Father, I thank you'. The two sides chewed betel together, then ate together from the same dish. When the time came for shaking hands, the two sides held each other and wept openly. These sides were descended from the same great grandmother. The singers hummed slowly 'Jesus, have pity on me'. They concluded the ceremony by planting a tangget tree on a stone.
When the time came for me to speak, tears were clouding my eyes. I joined them and said. 'Father I too beg forgiveness because during the conflict, we leaders gave you the vision and the confidence to walk the path we walked. And in doing so you lost your first born son.'
I turned to Simon and his family and continued, ' When you killed the BRA member, I cursed you and prayed that you must be killed. For that I beg your forgiveness too.' I walked down from the stage and stood amongst the people and shook their hands. I remembered my uncle, who never made it home.