Accord shaky as Bougainville waits for supplies

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

There is an alarming lack of action from the PNG government to implement the Honiara Declaration, according to Moses Havini, representative in Australia for the Bougainville interim government. Havini issued a statement on his return from visiting the embattled island with an SBS film crew.

Bougainvilleans are anxious that vital medical supplies and other essential services be resumed. This has become a major test of the PNG government's sincerity in adhering to the peace accord signed on January 23.

The first shipment was scheduled to leave Rabaul on February 14 but was delayed — reportedly because the crew felt its safety was not guaranteed. Many in Bougainville, however, suspect that the government is reluctant to lift the blockade.

More than a tonne of Australian non-government aid intended for Bougainville has also been gathering dust on the Brisbane waterfront for the past six weeks. The PNG government claims administrative problems have delayed delivery.

Havini suspects "powerful men" inside the PNG government are trying to sabotage the accord. Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu denied this on February 17, when the MV Sankamup finally left Rabaul for Kieta with a cargo of urgently needed medicines and fuel. PNG agreed to allow the Australian non-government relief supplies to leave for Bougainville on February 20.

The people of Bougainville won important concessions from the PNG government at the talks held in the Solomon Islands capital on January 22-23. Their perseverance in the face of a brutal economic blockade forced PNG to accept that the interim government led by Francis Ona is firmly in control and has popular support.

Cabinet divided

The Honiara talks followed the breakdown of the agreement signed aboard the New Zealand warship Endeavour on August 5. That accord collapsed when PNG broke its pledges by landing troops and police on Buka Island, off the northern tip of Bougainville. The promised "urgent" resumption of supplies of food, fuel and medicines never eventuated.

However, the continued severe privations failed to undermine support for the interim government among the people of Bougainville, leaving Port Moresby the alternatives of attempting a costly and bloody military invasion or renegotiating a peace

settlement. The cabinet, known to be split between those who favour a negotiated settlement and those who favour full-scale war, chose the former.

The PNG government also came under heavy diplomatic pressure to resume talks from the government of the neighbouring Solomon Islands and that nation's Christian churches. Hundreds of refugees have fled to the Solomons seeking medical help, and many Solomon Islanders have relatives in Bougainville.

Bougainville's leaders were desperate to bring the blockade to an end. The leader of Bougainville's delegation to the talks and former premier of the North Solomons Province, Joseph Kabui, told the Fiji-based Islands Business magazine on January 23 that Francis Ona had given him a mandate to bargain for a swift restoration of essential services in exchange for "whatever it takes".

"We can't afford to breach" the accord, Kabui told Islands Business. "Our eyes are not blind. We've seen deaths and suffering from confrontations and blockades. About 1000 would not be an exaggerated figure for deaths from confrontations between BRA and [PNG] security forces and people dying of health reasons."

Kabui added that 4000 babies born between 1989 and 1990 were without immunisation or vaccination against the island's tropical diseases. "Our worry was that if nothing was going to be done, most of them would die because they were totally vulnerable."

Interim authority

The Honiara accord pledges that the blockade will be lifted and essential services restored to the island. As in the earlier accord, discussions on the future political status of Bougainville are deferred.

It was also agreed that an Interim Legal Authority on Bougainville would be established. Joseph Kabui told Islands Business that this would be the current interim government. "It is an authority that PNG is accepting, if not we wouldn't have signed this agreement." The accord grants members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army immunity from prosecution.

Foreign Minister Michael Somare agreed to the demand that PNG troops not return to Bougainville. The accord provides for a "Multinational Supervisory Team" to oversee implementation of the accord — a key demand of the Bougainville delegation. The Bougainville leaders promised to surrender their arms to the MST.