By Norm Dixon
The Bougainville Interim Government says that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force has begun to commit atrocities following the landing of troops in southern Bougainville's Siwai district on May 9. There are also reports that the Solomon Islands was again attacked the day before the Bougainville landing.
The PNG government confirmed on May 12 that it had ordered the landing. According to Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu, a squad of 15 soldiers and police were in Siwai and another 60 troops were stationed on an island offshore. However, early media reports put the landing force at as many as 300 troops.
Namaliu claimed that local village leaders had asked for PNGDF assistance so as to have essential services restored. The PNG government has maintained a militarily enforced blockade of Bougainville, preventing food and medicines from reaching the island.
Moses Havini, the Bougainville Interim Government's representative in Australia, told Green Left Weekly on May 13 that "so far there has not been any fighting, but Radio Free Bougainville reported last night that the PNG troops have already started to commit atrocities.
"The first victim was the father of a Bougainville Revolutionary Army commander. He was dragged behind a truck until he died.
"This landing means that the undisciplined PNG Defence Forces will now be a law unto themselves [in the area]. We can expect horrifying atrocities to be committed by them just as they did when they invaded Buka and occupied Wakunai [a village in central Bougainville]."
Bougainville's leaders suspect the PNGDF will be allowed to run amok in the lead-up to PNG's June general election.
Havini said there were reliable reports that the many in the PNGDF force that landed in Siwai had recently completed special forces training with the Australian Army in Queensland.
He rejected the claim that the force had been invited by the local leaders: "There was a small group there which was supporting a fellow called Anthony Anugu ... the PNGDF could have managed to get a few collaborators from that group. However, well over 90% of southern Bougainville remains with the BRA."
There are now three concentrations of PNGDF troops in Bougainville. There are between 300 and 600 on Buka Island, just off the island's north-west, another 200-500 occupying Wakunai village in central Bougainville and now a significant force in southern Bougainville.
"They are in camps and doing limited patrols but not spreading out", Havini explained. "The idea is to sit tight ... I think a full invasion is not feasible for them to undertake. Therefore they have type tactics so they can have a foothold on some areas and claim they have not fully lost control of Bougainville."
Radio Australia also reported that PNG's Australian-supplied patrol boats again attacked the Solomon Islands. According to the report, Honiara said that PNGDF troops landed a raiding party on an island in the Shortlands, part of the territory of Solomon Islands, on May 8.
Islanders from the Shortlands said two Solomons fishermen were abducted and have not been seen since. Police from Honiara have gone to Shortlands to investigate.
The office of the Solomon Islands honorary consul in Wellington, New Zealand, has said attacks on its territory and the situation in Bougainville have led the Solomons government to launch a major diplomatic initiative on the Bougainville issue. Delegations have been sent to most Pacific countries.
According to a statement from the consul's office, "both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are considering possible forms of recognition for Bougainville or some equivalent action designed to end the military conflict and establish a basis for seeking an effective peace".