Australia aided atrocity cover-up

March 4, 1991

By Norm Dixon

An Australian military official helped cover up the involvement of Australian-supplied Iroquois combat helicopters in the brutal execution of six Bougainvilleans by PNG troops in February last year, according to the second part of a controversial SBS Dateline program aired on February 22.

The program interviewed the lone survivor of the massacre. On February 14, 1990, Danny Toru, along with Uniting Church Pastor Raumo Benito and five other members of his congregation, were abducted by PNG security forces and accused of being rebels. They were beaten, then treated at Arawa hospital and transferred to the Aropa airport army camp.

Toru's interpreter told reporter Mark Corcoran that "from the airport army base they were taken to a river where they were slaughtered, shot with a gun. They were taken off down to bank of the river. Danny got suspicious as to why they were taken there, so he was very cautious ... As soon as the firing took place he reacted very quickly and made his escape ... They loaded [the bodies] up in the helicopter ... The helicopter headed to the small island just across from the Aropa airport."

Other witnesses from a nearby village told Dateline that the helicopter made two runs over this stretch of water, which is a notorious shark breeding area. The pastor and the five members of his congregation were never seen again.

The murders came only a week after another massacre when at least 20 young Bougainvilleans were mowed down by machine guns fired from Iroquois helicopters. Last March, Australian minister of defence Kim Beazley dismissed the reported murders as merely one of many rumours circulating in Bougainville. The PNG government promised an inquiry.

Sources at Heli New Guinea, the company contracted to provide the Australian and New Zealand "civilian" helicopter pilots, confirmed the bodies were dumped at sea. A former pilot, now based in Sydney, refused an on-camera interview with Dateline, saying he had done nothing wrong. He revealed that an Australian Air Force wing commander serving on exchange in PNG had "fixed things up with the Port Moresby government".

The manager of Heli New Guinea denied the dumping ever took place, as did the Australian Defence Department. However, Australian intelligence sources told Dateline that it was aware of the incident. No official action has been taken by either the Australian or PNG governments.

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