Solomon Islands

Photo by Natalie Behring / PANOS

It is not hard to imagine these Pacific islands as they were in the 1500s when a Spanish explorer came, found gold, and gave the Solomon Islands their name. The islands are still dotted with homes made from wood and sago palm and some 80 per cent of the population still have a subsistence lifestyle through farming, fishing, or hunting and gathering. Ownership of land and property is still spread out over family and kin networks, rather than being kept by individuals. This is what remains of the ‘old’ Solomon Islands where life is ruled by kastom – commonly accepted behaviour rooted in tradition.

Flag of the Solomon Islands

But visitors who arrive in the capital city of Honiara, get one of the many taxis beating out reggaeton and weave their way through the car and footpath traffic, will see the ‘new’ Solomon Islands in full force. In Honiara are mingled many different Melanesian tribes from the islands, Polynesians and Micronesians wearing lavalavas (sarongs), as well as wakus (Chinese entrepreneurs) going about their business. Kastom here is more about the strength of local cultural norms in the face of foreign influences; life is more about the balance between where you are from and where you want to go.

Economic development and aid have been restarted following a period of violent conflict between people from the islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal (where Honiara is situated) in 2003. The economy grew by almost five per cent in the first year of peace and, to the surprise of many a Western economist, studies found this growth was entirely due to industrious small-scale fishers, farmers and other family-run businesses.

The arrival of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands has had many unintended effects. This began as a peacekeeping force initiated by the Pacific Islands Forum and morphed over time into an Australian-dominated law, justice and statebuilding ‘intervention’ that has now lasted over five years and looks set to continue for another five. Among the byproducts are a rapid growth in housing in Honiara, which has in general favoured those city dwellers with already established assets and businesses, while the poor have been pushed further away from the city centre. Despite this marginalization, malnutrition and extreme poverty are very rare thanks to the wantok system of strong social obligations to care for the extended family. Ironically, this safety net is also a key obstacle to better distribution of wealth via government, as politicians tend to channel privileges and assets to their wantoks.

As islanders look towards the imminent next election in 2010, it is with a general sense that something has to change. A law granting special payments to spouses of Members of Parliament (MPs) caused widespread public outrage and a public service strike, prompted by the sense that political élites were taking the country for a ride to the detriment of the average citizen.

This dissatisfaction is nothing new – the Solomon Islands Development Trust has consistently rated government capacity to provide basic services as unsatisfactory over the past two decades. The absence of armed conflict has revitalized local campaigns such as Transparency International and Winds of Change calling for greater accountability from politicians. In addition, women’s groups are pushing for change, the country having elected only one female MP in its 30 years of independence. Civil society is thriving, as church and sports groups in particular pool their energy and resources to promote education, women’s empowerment, and traditional dancing and art.

Notwithstanding the old jokes about ‘Solomon time’ (a long time to get something done) and ‘Solomon stori’ (a roundabout way of telling a tale), there is a lot happening as the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Solomon Islands meet and become the country’s future.

Anouk Ride

Map of the Solomon Islands

The rebel peace

Enemies who became friends – Theresa Jaintong and Ben Kamada

Anouk Ride

‘People say that the sand was once an island with people and gardens and animals,’ says Francis, gesturing towards a sandbar out in the ocean before us, ‘but a giant octopus came along and – with his many arms and great waves of water – turned the island upside down. So now that sand that you see on top was once the bottom of the island, and the top of the island has been drowned. If you go out at night in a boat you will hear the sound of roosters crowing and people talking. But you have to go at night, quietly, to hear them.’

Francis and all the other people of Bougainville know what life is like in a world turned upside down. They have lived through the South Pacific’s bloodiest conflict since World War Two – it lasted nine years until a ceasefire was declared in early 1998 between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) with its local Resistance Army supporters. In what the outside world frequently calls a ‘forgotten war’, but which Bougainvilleans simply call ‘the crisis’, around 20,000 people – an eighth of the population – died due to the fighting or to the blockade imposed on the island by the Papua New Guinea Government.

A world turns upside down

Francis is matter-of-fact about how he personally was catapulted into the conflict: ‘The BRA came and everyone had to sign up. I was a young boy, wanted to be tough.’ Francis is clearly proud that his clan name, ‘Omi’, means ‘bad’.

His family, like so many others, was split by the conflict. His brother fought for the other side – PNG – and was killed.

His eyes cloud with tears when he describes the day when he tried to run the blockade to Bougainville from the Solomons. The PNGDF patrol boat saw them: ‘Three friends of mine were shot. There was all their blood around me in the sea. And I just grabbed this piece of wood and was quiet and still so I would not get shot. I drifted, and drifted all night...’

‘I was psychologically affected by the War,’ he later admits, ‘even now.’ After drifting away from life as a BRA boy, he became a youth worker and now does workshops on the dangers of home-brewed alcohol and violence against women. ‘People are surprised that I made it to this today but it was hard work and took many years,’ he says before adding, with grave astonishment: ‘I even saw a psychologist!’

The factors that turned Bougainville upside down are complicated and rooted in a history of foreign interference (see the _Octopus of War_). But clearly the development of the Panguna copper mine, which began in 1972, congealed Bougainvillean desire for autonomy. In what was to become the archetypal indigenous anti-mining land-rights struggle and the loudest wake-up call for the industry in the world, locals protested for 16 years. But they could not stop a hole six kilometres wide and four kilometres deep being bored into the central mountains of Bougainville island. Finally, the conflict became violent on 22 November 1988 when a disgruntled mineworker raided Bougainville Copper Ltd’s armoury and stole explosives which he used to destroy company installations. This fiery man, Francis Ona, was soon proclaimed President of Bougainville by secessionists and he led the newly formed BRA. Today Ona has rejected the peace process and thus has split with the majority of the BRA. Ona’s few hundred rebels control the mine and the area around it. Even flying over this part of the island exposes helicopters to gunfire.

In addition to the old grenades and guns left by the Japanese and Americans during the Second World War which were pieced together and replicated, the BRA was able to steal and capture a lot of equipment from the Resistance and PNGDF. The PNGDF in turn was supported by Australia, whose hands are submerged in this murky flow of arms. The Defence Co-operation Program between PNG and Australia includes supply of light and heavy weapons, all of which have been used in Bougainville in the blockade and fighting – it was Australian-supplied Iroquois helicopters that dumped civilians killed by the PNGDF into the sea following the ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ in 1990.

The Program also includes military training and advisers. Ironically, the commander of the BRA, Sam Kaona, undertook an Australian Officer Training Course in explosives at Portsea near Melbourne.

Around 20,000 people – an eighth of the population – died due to the fighting or to the blockade imposed on the island by the Papua New Guinea Government

Papua New Guinea’s destructive love affair with overseas military assistance grew to sickening proportions in March 1997 when the Government signed a contract reported to be worth $31 million with Sandline International to retake central Bougainville by force using hired mercenaries. Amidst mass protests by PNG civilians and a military rebellion, the mercenaries were sent home. Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan stood down and Bill Skate came to power.

Willie Aga, a BRA man, says: ‘I was not afraid when we heard the mercenaries were coming because I knew they would die. And we also knew we could get some much better weapons off the mercenaries than we can off the PNGDF.’

Despite this attachment to weapons and violence by the BRA and PNG Government, when Skate came to power in mid-1997 each side seemed more optimistic that a non-violent solution was possible. A few people in Buka who still wear the prized yellow ‘Election 97’ T-shirts describe their jubilation as they oversaw the island’s participation in national elections for the first time in a decade.

Skate addressed Bougainvilleans saying: ‘I feel compelled by the grace of God that the time has come to say sorry and ask for your forgiveness.’ And on 23 January 1998 all sides signed the ‘Lincoln Agreement on Peace, Security and Development on Bougainville’ – renouncing the use of armed force and violence and setting the date of 30 April as the beginning of a ‘permanent and irrevocable ceasefire’. So far this has held, despite the PNG Parliament’s refusal to allow a referendum on the constitutional status of Bougainville.

Stifled voices are let free

As Bougainville was previously under a state of siege, the story of the crisis has only just been heard. When asked why peace has happened now, Willie Aga cites the most common reply: ‘We were tired of war, tired of killing.’ War-weariness seems to have beaten down most former fighters. Willie adds: ‘The PNGDF couldn’t win because those men in Resistance, they are our brothers. We cannot keep killing our brothers and they do not want to kill us.’

The legacy of this disturbing experience is obvious in the volatile young men who have lived the War as fighters. They become frustrated or are too humiliated to go to school to learn how to read and write alongside people half their age. And, says youth worker Francis, ‘they don’t know how to just talk. It’s difficult just to get them to talk. They consider themselves better because they’ve fought and they won’t negotiate.’ With boredom and homebrew, or jungle juice, in plentiful supply these youths are responsible for most of the ‘law and order problems’ which concern Bougainvilleans. Although they have just come out of a war, the islanders are horrified at the gangster crime they have seen or heard of in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital and one of the most violent cities in the world.

Despite the ‘bad’ name Francis and other former fighters have, they are able to reject violence and be reintegrated into society. To do this they need employment or education but Willie says that aid donors are reluctant to fund projects which employ former killers. Still, he is far from despondent about the chances that people who lived through the War can hold the peace: ‘When we were fighting I saw miracles – survival.’

People were forced out of the towns and villages into a life on the run in the jungle. Around 35,000-40,000 were coerced or fled into crowded government ‘care centres’ which many saw as prisons where people routinely suffered human-rights abuses. Other communities came under the control of the BRA and were forced to move with the fighters in their pursuit and retreat from the PNGDF.

Patricia from Arawa says: ‘It was very hard up there in the bush. The BRA made us move each day with all our things. We had to make shelter under the trees so we could not be seen by the security forces flying overhead. After the crisis was over I went up there in a chopper. What a joke! You can see everything from up there! The BRA made fools of us.’ And some women spent the crisis with their children hiding from both the BRA and the PNGDF, often becoming ill and perishing in harsh conditions, without access to medicines.

But the remarkable resilience that many people showed through the crisis has now been used to transform the island. In just a year Buka has been rebuilt from scratch, Arawa’s local produce market thrives and flights from PNG are full of people coming and going for business or to see family now the blockade is over. The passion to rebuild Bougainville is palpable – such as the man who insisted on digging in the hot sun to lay telephone cables despite malaria, a rapidly melting block of ice bandaged around his head and all attempts at dissuasion by his fellow workers.

At the same time, Bougainvilleans value independence and many worry about whether the large inflow of aid – $64 million over five years from the Australian Government alone – implemented without grassroots control, will lead to a ‘handout mentality’. Many highlight the lack of local employment in aid projects. Mining remains one of the most sensitive topics and it is not even mentioned in any of the peace talks. Most Bougainvilleans use this as the yardstick for what they do not want – foreign economic control in any form, including top-down aid.

But international support is encouraged – a prominent example being the success of the Peace Monitoring Group. This group of organized and unarmed citizens of Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu patrols Bougainville in a bid to discourage violence or breaks of the ceasefire but also to spread the word about peace and its benefits. The Peace Monitoring Group, like the Peace Brigades (an international organization of human-rights monitors who are dispatched to trouble-spots), show that unarmed foreigners can be more effective peace police than armed ‘peacekeepers’ whose motives are inevitably seen as suspicious by locals.

Despite the common points of agreement that have helped keep the peace in Bougainville, there are several topics the various parties to the process do not agree on and they are enjoying having the right to meet, debate and discuss. One conversation – between two supporters of different visions for Bougainville’s future – seemed to sum up how people felt about peace and its implications. Theresa Jaintong, a forceful organizer and rapid speaker from the District Women’s Council, does not support independence and describes herself as a moderate: ‘I don’t want to take sides. People from all sides come and we will embrace them if they want peace. During the crisis the women would tell both sides to stop fighting. And in the care centres we would tell the PNGDF where not to go. If the BRA or the Security Forces were doing something – an ambush or something – we would say to them “I cry for you now if you do not go out and fight. If you go out and get killed, I will not cry for you.” They listened to that.’

In ways like this the women are influential, she says: ‘They work for peace and were very important in creating this peace. The top – the official Bougainville Transitional Government – doesn’t matter. The women have a different approach. They are among the people. And they can create peace.’

At this stage we are interrupted by Ben Kamada, Chief Planner of the BRA, who is known for a quick temper as much as a quick mind. He had told me before that although he may fire mortars over a roundtable rather than a mountain these days, independence for Bougainville is his target.

‘The women got us killed,’ he says dismissively.

Theresa rolls her eyes and I get the feeling they have discussed this topic before. She attempts to ignore this comment: ‘He talks like this but he is a peacemaker. He allowed women from government-controlled areas and BRA areas to come together. He took care of me although he knew I was moderate.’

Ben will not be shrugged off: ‘I hate the women. I hate PNGDF. They’re all the same. I do not trust them. When we came down because our mothers told us, our chiefs told us, we got killed by the soldiers. The women talk like this because they did not fight; they did not suffer.’

Theresa’s mouth opens in shocked disgust. The argument is on. ‘Oh!’ she exclaims. ‘We had suffering, the women experienced great sadness. But we got together. In the care centres we formed a Council of Chiefs and organized ourselves. We made peace in ourselves and then we went out to make peace...’

Ben is adamant: ‘I am scared. I don’t trust these people and I don’t trust the women.’

‘You live with a woman!’ says Theresa in exasperation as she turns half her back to him and leans closer to me: ‘Don’t listen to all of this. He has been a bridge between warring parties.’

Ben is shaking his head: ‘I might be a bridge, but soon I will break. Too many people on me and I break.’

‘There is not peace,’ he continues, ‘We signed the declarations but there is not trust. I do not trust the PNGDF. I have peace with Resistance because they are Bougainvilleans, black skins like me. Not these redskins (Papuans). I want them to go back.’

‘You can’t ask them to go back. They don’t want to be here,’ insists Theresa. ‘It’s the Government that wants them to be here. That is who you must talk to.’

Ben is not pacified: ‘I do not trust the Government,’ he says and then adds thoughtfully: ‘There have been four ceasefires, maybe there will be a fifth one.’

‘No!’ says Theresa her yellow eyes flashing anger.

Ben crosses his arms: ‘I am not ashamed of it. I have rascals watching and ready to fight. I want to tell the world!’

Theresa covers her ears and, head down, shouts: ‘Stop talking like this. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know!’

Ben continues: ‘We have our weapons and they have theirs. We are ready to fight.’ Theresa turns and looks him straight in the eyes as she emphasizes each word: ‘You own the peace. You signed the agreement. You can not fight. You own the peace.’

Ben is silent for a moment. The words hang somewhere in the space between the two political adversaries. And the realization comes – they agree on something after all. Ben’s shoulders push back and he grins proudly: ‘I own the peace.’

In pursuit of peace & reconciliation

Climbing the ladder of peace: 70 per cent of Northern Ireland's people voted for the latest peace agreement.


We all flee at that moment – the grandmothers, the fathers, the priest, the dogs, even the most plucky of the kids. With a camera bouncing around my neck and against a pounding heart, I race with that panicked crowd across the marshy lawn. The source of our fear – the masses of orange-sashed marchers – had suddenly surged, while yelling to the tunes of a military band, towards us.

Between the advancing Protestant/Loyalist marchers of the Orange Order and the minority Catholic/Nationalist community standing outside their local St Joseph’s church is a line of Royal Ulster Constabulary police who face the marchers. The Catholic/Nationalists are monitored by a human wall of soldiers in black riot gear with shields, helmets, batons and guns. Logically, it is clear that with armed British men occupying every bit of space between the thousands of marchers and a few hundred residents, it is impossible for the two groups to come to blows. But the fears of what had happened in the past and what could happen in the future fuse together in an explosion of hysteria.

It is ironic but true that each warring faction in every armed conflict around the world, sees itself as a victim of injustice fighting for its rights

The marchers could not go any further than the line of riot-geared men at the head of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, Northern Ireland. Of course earlier that day, 19 December 1998, it all seemed like a game – the residents singing ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ over the beats of the Orange Order marching band; bursting into laughter at a puppy which scampered around the feet of bewildered soldiers and their German shepherds, yapping defiantly; or the stories about a guy dressed up as Santa Claus on Craigwell Avenue with a question to the Orange Order taped onto his chest: ‘Do they know it’s Xmas?’ But the reality is that these laughs are a temporary break in concentration as people chain-smoke, bite nails, fidget and drink bottomless cups of tea as they wait for the violence to come back into their homes again.

The Catholic/Nationalist minority in Portadown has been forcibly expelled from the town centre by gangs. They have had their homes razed to the ground and Catholic/Nationalist-owned shops and the local gas station have been attacked. Most of these incidents occur on the same days as the marches. At one recent rally the Grand Master of the Orange Order, Robert Saulters, called for the leader of the Garvaghy Road residents’ committee to be ‘taken out’. From 5 July to 3 December 1998 there were over 130 Orange Order demonstrations in Portadown, the vast majority of them illegal.

Have you spotted the bias in this article yet? Excuse this not-so-uncommon break from journalistic tradition. For I knew, as I stood in the Republican Milltown cemetery in Belfast, that it was impossible for me to be objective about Northern Ireland. Reading the headstones, I realized that people lived the ‘troubles’ from their cradle to their grave. The older gravestones frequently say things like ‘Martyred for his faith’, whereas newer ones are inscribed with political meaning – such as the many who were ‘Murdered in their home’. And as I stopped at another gravestone for a mother ‘and also her children who rest in Brisbane, Australia’, it seemed like those who had passed were reminding me of my good fortune to be born and live in a country with politics, not war.


Although I was saddened by the senseless loss of life that lay beneath my feet, I could not help but feel angry at the British Black Hawk helicopters circling like noisy vultures over my head. These reminded me that I abhor British human-rights abuses conducted during its troubled rule of Northern Ireland and in many now-free places around the world; that I am disgusted at its rapidly expanding arms sales to the Majority World. Each whirr of the helicopter propellers made me appreciate the chance to be able to vote for an Australian Republic, and strengthened my desire for the survivors of the Troubles at least to be able to assert their status as more than just a colonial offshoot and have the power to determine collectively their own future.

A mural not far from the cemetery shows Republicans alongside other ‘revolutionaries’ such as Che Guevara. The Aboriginal Australian flag is a prominent part of the collage of international resistance. But my sympathies with the Republican movement and other campaigns – from the Western Sahara to West Papua – do not include support for the kind of violence I saw in the Catholic/Nationalist-dominated city of Derry. I was as appalled by the intimidation, violence and prejudice against the minority Protestant/Loyalists as I was by the treatment of Catholic/Nationalists in Portadown. Here too the minority community are scared to shop in the centre of town or go to the central pubs. They have also been intimidated out of their homes and feel discriminated against by local authorities.

I begin to understand how this feeling of victimhood is manipulated by groups such as the Orange Order. Catherine, a worker representing the Protestant/ Loyalist community at Derry’s Peace and Reconciliation Group, explains: ‘Loyalists say Protestant Alienation is happening here, in Derry. If young Loyalists want to go to university, they go to Coleraine. I went to the tech college 18 years ago and was intimidated and I won’t let my kids go there. There are no jobs for kids. They’ve been unemployed so long they have a joke, they say: “Unemployment is hereditary – my father had it, my grandfather had it and so I have it.” Bars and pubs in town are one-sided. Protestants don’t come over the bridge after five. So the Protestants see the Orange Order as them; it could be me or you standing there in Portadown with people telling you to get off the street. In the Loyalist housing estate the majority of these people have never been to Portadown or Drumcree yet they are out on the streets rioting about it. They say if the marches don’t happen we’ll be on the road to a united Ireland.’

It is ironic but true that each warring faction, each armed killer, in every armed conflict around the world, sees itself as a victim of injustice fighting for its rights. And despite what ‘side’ I may sympathize with in Northern Ireland or any other conflict, I cannot condone the use of murder, intimidation and terror.

While conflict is an inevitable and creative force, violence is horrific and destructive. And so I support peace – which Johan Galtung defines as ‘nonviolent and creative conflict transformation’ – _at all costs_. Republicans and Loyalists have become the victims of common enemies: violence, fear and death. And, as Tanya, Catherine’s Catholic/Nationalist co-worker, points out: ‘We’ve only got a million-and-a-half population in Northern Ireland. We can’t afford to be apart from each other.’

The active optimist – Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.


I am surprised at just how divided many communities remain. Catherine and Tanya admit that the breakdown of the first ceasefire created a lot of distrust. People are still reluctant to go out of their own community and are sceptical about what these new peace agreements will mean on the ground. And people say the newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly members have lost touch with what people need. ‘The Assembly is like an episode of _Men Behaving Badly_. It’s like a sitcom,’ agree Catherine and Tanya. Maureen Hetherington, from Derry City Council, says: ‘They’re not talking about what they should be in the Assembly – health, education, infrastructure, unemployment. I’ve got three children and the Assembly has no relevance to what I want for them – peace, employment and education.’ So each day that the Assembly members engage in narrow political point-scoring and refuse to compromise on issues such as marching and reform of the police endangers the peace process even further.

For peace to be real, people need to see it on the streets and in their own lives. In Belfast Vincent McKenna, from a support group called Families Against Intimidation and Terror, is appalled that the same groups involved in human-rights abuses have seats in the Assembly. He tells a joke about a group of Swedish journalists who came to interview him in the week David Trimble (Ulster Unionist Party leader) and John Hume (head of the Social and Democratic Labour Party) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: ‘They asked me if I was having a party because of the Peace Prize! I said: “No, I’m not having a party! I’ll tell you what I’m having...”.’ He goes on to list statistics: in 1998 there were 32 shootings by Loyalists, 37 by Repub-licans; 83 beatings by Loyalists, 79 by Republicans; the number of families forced to leave their homes due to intimidation increased; 646 children were subject to human-rights abuses by organizations party to the peace process. Combined with the Omagh bombing and actions of other terrorist organizations, this means that around 1,000 children were subject to human-rights abuses in 1998 alone.

Standing together – Tanya (left) and Catherine from Derry's Peace and Reconciliation Group.


These incidents must be stopped for peace to proceed. But where a perpetrator is also a victim, many believe that getting ex-fighters into politics is the only way to go. Tanya says: ‘You have to be careful to avoid being sucked into the apathy trap. If you get enough people to say the peace process is happening, then it is happening – you get to a situation where it is much harder for these people to walk away from the Assembly.’

The basic starting-point of peace – just getting people from different backgrounds in the same room to talk to each other (let alone to attend the same school or church service) – is new to many parts of Northern Ireland. Before leaving Catherine and Tanya, I get out the camera. ‘Can you stand a bit closer to each other?’ I ask.

‘I’m not going near her; she’s a Protestant,’ says Tanya narrowing her eyes.

‘And she’s a Catholic!’ exclaims Catherine in mock horror.

Amidst the scepticism, the jokes and the fear is the unfailing optimism of Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Peace People. She says clear vision is what’s needed: ‘The Unionists are looking to the United Kingdom, the Nationalists are looking to Ireland. They need to turn around and start looking at each other.’ And she believes the two communities can have a common Northern Irish identity based on their history of 70 years separate from Ireland and 30 years of the Troubles: ‘I get a sense that together we can solve the problems.’

'The Unionists are looking to the United Kingdom, the Nationalists are looking to Ireland. They need to turn around and start looking at each other'

Her faith is founded in the people that have been working for peace since the beginning of war. Often they were the women. At the door of Mairead’s office, waiting to be packed up and sent away, are black-and-white photos of demonstrations – framed memories of women’s struggle for peace. ‘It was amazing. Ordinary unpoliticized women came out on to the streets and became politicized,’ says Mairead. ‘And of course women keep the peace in the schools, in the churches. It would be a tragedy if the enormous role women have played in the peace process was written out of history.’

Seventeen years after her sister’s death, Mairead wrote about Anne Maguire’s history. Anne’s is one of the many graves I visited in Milltown cemetery. She is buried there with her three children, who were killed in a clash between the IRA and the British Army on Finaghy Road in North Belfast – four years before Anne took her own life in 1980. On the stone is inscribed: ‘They died so others might live in peace.’

Mairead writes: ‘Danny Lennon, a 19-year-old IRA man, was shot through the head by a British soldier. His car swerved onto the footpath killing three of Anne’s children.’ Anne herself was not expected to survive the accident but did survive. ‘Her broken legs and pelvis meant months of learning to walk again. One of her first outings was the Falls Road Rally where she read the Declaration of the Peace People. She also went to visit Mrs Lennon, saying that “she lost her child too”.

‘Anne never saw her children buried. In her own mind she refused to accept their deaths. She would often talk about seeing them playing in the garden. Their deaths and the brain bruising she suffered resulted in psychotic depression. Anne became a troubled soul.

Violence is not inevitable. Indeed, the unwritten history of the world may be the history of things we have not fought over

‘We were told that as she was a “determined suicide”; we could only pray and watch out for her. Finally, a painful, slow, lonely death on a bitter winter’s day: Anne’s spirit flew away to join her little angels in heaven.

‘I have told the story of Anne not to make anyone sad, but to give everyone hope. The story of Anne will be told long after all of us have gone to be with her. But let those who tell it, tell of her compassion, her courage, her joy, and above all her love for her family. We don’t believe that Anne has gone from us, we see her and feel her presence with us all the time. I am certain that her wish for us all is: End the violence forever – _siocháin_ – peace.’

Now Mairead sees her sister’s wish beginning to come true. She applauds Hume and Trimble for their role in leading their own parties towards peace. And she says the outside help of Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern and particularly US Senator Mitchell were very important to obtain peace.

Mairead says while the two major problems of Northern Ireland – poverty and violence – have yet to be tackled, she is thankful for the progress that has been made so far. With a deep exhalation she pauses and looks up at another photograph resting against her office wall. ‘You know Aung Sun Su Kyi?’ she says. ‘She’s inspirational. When I get tired, I look up at her. I hope that Burma can have the all-inclusive dialogue we have here.’ Dialogue with the military regime? Yes. She believes that people ‘have a goodness’, as Ong Ju Lynn describes (see [_Eye to eye with SLORC_](

Reaching Towards Peace & Reconciliation

Peace is a revolutionary process that transforms conflict from violent to non-violent forms. The finishing-line of a peace process is reconciliation – the point at which we are reconciled with one another and the past.

There is no single formula that can be replicated in any part of the world. But to reach reconciliation, peace processes must take the following routes:

Violence is not inevitable. Indeed, the unwritten history of the world may be the history of things we have not fought over. Even Northern Ireland, which has become synonymous in many people’s minds with violence, has its own history of non-violence – the Irish gave the English language the word ‘boycott’ and it was peaceful Irish protests over land that inspired Gandhi, watching from London, to protest non-violently for the rights of Indian people and the poor.

A group of notable scientists and psychologists has endorsed _The Seville Statement on Non-Violence_. This states that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that humans have a ‘violent brain’ or are genetically programmed to kill each other. No other species does. People in the 135 violent conflicts in the world today learn to respond violently to certain stimuli and suppress their ‘goodness’. They can learn non-violence instead. And we can all work to address the factors that stifle this goodness, to make space for peace to proceed and ultimately to allow reconciliation to occur. Internationally, nationally, locally and individually peace is possible using the right ingredients (see _The Road to Peace & Reconciliation_).

Peace is not a moment in time or a period of passive activity following a ceasefire, but a revolutionary process that transforms conflict to non-violent relations. The world has tried violence to achieve its objectives for decades. Now, despite our technological and economic progress, we have a world plagued by small wars – where 95 per cent of casualties are civilians and 90 per cent of these casualties are caused by guns and small arms. We have a world where millions kill their neighbours, their fellow nationals, those within the firing range of a few metres. There are no winners in this kind of war.

Before boarding the plane to leave Northern Ireland, I buy the papers to see if there is much news of the Orange Order protest I had witnessed the day before. The front pages are filled with stories on Clinton and Blair’s pre-Christmas bombing of Iraq. These leaders of rich nations are the only victors of war – those who do not have to look in the face of the people they kill, those who cannot recognize their victims. Unless we challenge this kind of autocratic power, unless we contest the violence that lies within our own cultures, unless we end militarization and uphold human rights, we will always be chased by fear – just as I was on that day in Portadown. Peace requires individual and collective commitment. We must start running in the opposite direction – towards reconciliation with one another and the past. It is not exactly a 100-metre sprint, more like a marathon. But the prize – an end to injustice, hurt and fright – must be magnificent. So come on: On your marks, Get set, Go!

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