Pomio women cry for their land

By John Pangkatana

LOCAL women leaders say their simple way of life is not the same anymore since logging company Gilford Limited set up camp at Drina Village, West Pomio-Mamusi LLG in the East New Britain Province last year.

The situation on the ground has further escalated since Greenpeace environmental ship MV Esperanza supported local landowners to bring their plight to the international audience with their presence in Jacquinot Bay last week.

This is especially so with the commission of inquiry debating on this issue this week in Kokopo. 

Family ties have been severed and there is general ill-feeling between those that are for the development and those that are against it, said local women leader Anna Sipona. 

This has riled Gillford Limited’s operations, who are a subsidiary of Malaysian logging magnate Rimbunan Hijau (RH). RH are owners of daily newspaper The National. 

Questions are now being raised on how Gilford Limited through landowner umbrella company Memalo Investments Limited got consent to clear customary land for Pomata to Ralopal concessions for agricultural purposes, Sipona added. 

“We are not happy anymore. What right do they have to come and do this?” she questioned. 

Sipona from Malmal village and Mary Bailoenakia of Porosalel village said their land is not the same anymore since logging operations began towards the end of last year.
Sipona said: “Everyday I cry for my land, the land is the very source of our existence…our life.

“Many of us are confused, the company just came and took our land. Our gardens are destroyed, what can we do now, we live off what is in our garden. This has changed our lives forever,” Sipona said.

“The precedent has been set already, they will destroy our land and all their promises will go to nothing and they will leave,” she added.

“My plea is to the rest of the world, how can a company like Rimbunan Hijau, that Gilford Limited is a subsidiary of, can be allowed to come here and destroy our simple way of living.”

Bailoenakia said that women and children are the main sufferers.  “There is division in the community and our long existing social relationships are not the same anymore.

“I can argue with my brother, my uncle…please this must stop,” Bailoenakia added.

She said that there doesn’t seem to be any hope because she feels that the local administration and police have allegedly taken sides in the issue.

“When people want to talk they are threatened and have been bashed up for speaking up for their rights,” she said.