Rio Tinto's Panguna mine was the PNG government's major source of revenue when the country became independent in 1975 but landower disgruntlement with the way benefits were shared eventually unravelled into a decade-long civil war which brought Bougainville to its knees and left more than 10,000 people dead.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Michael Oni, Minister for Natural Resources, Autonomous Government of Bougainville; Melchior Dare, Minister for Community Development, Women, Youth, Sports, Churches and NGOs, Autonomous Government of Bougainville; Theresia Jaintong, Deputy Chairperson of the Panguna and Affected Resource Owners Association
GARRETT: Bougainvilleans are still suffering from the impact of the Panguna copper mine and from its closure during the civil war.
Theresia Jaintong, Deputy Chairperson of the Panguna and Affected Resource Owners Association is hoping for a brighter future.
JAINTONG: My village was burnt down and we all had to fled to the bush, to the jungle until the peace was signed and then we come back but we are still displaced. Our village is burnt and we are still displaced and we are staying in town, in Arawa town. Part of our land we are just occupying in the meantime before this process taking place so we can be re-integrated back into the village some way or the other.
GARRETT: Bougainville's Mining Minister Michael Oni grew up in the mine tailings area to the west of Panguna.
He was lucky. He finished his education before the civil war closed the schools but his people are still suffering.
ONI: People have no land to plant their crops. they don't have any land for trees for housing. They have no land to make gardens.
GARRETT: Community Development Minister Melchior Dare's village was so close to the huge mine that his people were affected by dust from blasting in the pit.
The company didn't even provide them with a road so they had to walk to the nearest transport and markets.
DARE: We have to walk 3-6 hours just on a bush track, which is just outside Panguna but because of the terrain. And when Panguna was operating what really affected us was cyanide, cyanide that was used for the industry. It affected our plants, our fruits, our birds but now because Panguna has been closed because of the conflict, now because the level of cyanide has gone down, the fruits have now come to fruiting and our environment is slowly rehabilitating.
The Bougainville copper mine was opened under a colonial era agreement that paid little regard to Bougainvilleans.
This time as Bougainvilleans consider re-opening the mine things are very different.
Mining Minister Michael Oni has high expectations.
ONI: I am expecting that proper consultation must occur, and then inclusive benefits for the people, benefits for our government, benefits for lower level governments, developments in regard to infrastructure for Bougainville, as well as for the people of Panguna and also training, capacity building for the young people of Panguna and also there should be some kind of fund, future generation fund to be allocated to support the people, especially children in the future.
GARRETT: Discussion and consensus-building are central to Bougainvilleans' traditional way of doing things.
This week's Mining Forum in Arawa comes after 3 years of lead-up talks and is part of a series of Forums across the island.
It is the first to formally consult landowners from the mine area.
Teresia Jaintong, from the landowners umbrella association, is looking forward to it.
JAINTONG: All the landowners and all the Council of Elders, the chiefs, the women, the churches, the disabled, the youths, everybody will be there.
GARRETT: You will be there. What will you be saying to the crowd?
JAINTONG: Well, I am always very positive about what I say. It is the way forward for the Panguna mine to be re-opened and also the people must speak. We will encourage them to speak positively about what they think, and with a lot of common sense, looking into the future for the younger generation.
GARRETT: The autonomous government of Bougainville has held 3 previous Mining Forums - two in northern Bougainville and one in the South.
Ministers, including Community Development Minister Melchior Dare, will be there.
DARE: In Arawa we are looking at even more, bigger crowd because this is where the centre of the consultation is. We are anticipating there will be even bigger crowd. These are very crucial areas because they are directly affected, formerly affected and even now affected, by Panguna mine.
GARRETT: Mr Oni, what are you hoping will come out of the Forum in Arawa?
ONI: I am very positive. I believe that the outcomes will be positive. That all the stakeholders will be contributing good ideas, positive ideas, towards the Forum and that would prepare Bougainville for the negotiations.
GARRETT: This first forum with Panguna landowers will be followed up with more in the months ahead.
It is not until those are finished and landowners are ready that negotiations will begin Rio Tinto's subsidiary, Bougainville Copper, which owns the mining lease.