Australian gunships in action again on Bougainville
By Norm Dixon
At least one of the four Iroquois combat helicopters supplied to the Papua New Guinea government by Australia in 1989 is in action over Bougainville again, says the Bougainville Interim Government.
The supply of helicopters marked Australia's first overt support to the PNG military's attempts to defeat the Bougainville people's struggle for independence.
On July 1, one of the helicopters was involved in a surveillance and reconnaissance flight over several villages in southern Bougainville. The BIG believes the flight was in preparation for a PNG Defence Force offensive to retake the airstrip in Lehu village.
In the early hours of July 12, the helicopter was again in action when it airlifted five loads of PNGDF soldiers into the Nagovisi district, south-west of the abandoned Panguna copper mine. Following a heavy clash with Bougainville Revolutionary Army fighters, the helicopters removed PNG casualties.
The helicopters have been grounded for the past 18 months by a lack of funds to maintain them. However, the BIG reports that sources in Canberra say that Australian government funding intended for the PNG government's "restoration program" on Bougainville has in fact been spent on repairs and maintenance to the helicopter gunships. n