Australian spies aid Bougainville blockade

June 24, 1992

Australian military surveillance is helping the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to blockade Bougainville by providing information on boats attempting to get through the blockade, according to a Bougainville provisional government representative in the Solomon Islands.

The representative told Australian lawyer Rosemarie Gillespie that Nomad aircraft were spotting boats carrying medical and emergency supplies to Bougainville and handing the information over to the PNGDF.

Gillespie herself was nearly killed on June 10, when the PNGDF strafed two unarmed canoes, in one of which Gillespie was travelling on her way to Bougainville, in Solomon Islands territorial waters. This was the fourth time PNG has violated the territory of the Solomon Islands this year.

"The PNG aircraft flew in from the north and circled over us", Gillespie reported from Honiara before setting out a second time for Bougainville. "After hesitating briefly, my companions turned the boats around and headed full speed back towards Kariki on Fauro Island. The plane swooped down, firing its machine gun at us. The bullets hit the water causing it to fly up at the point of impact. Rising, the plane circled and came at us again from behind."

The plane fired again as Gillespie and her companions raced for shelter. The plane circled and fired a third and fourth time, hitting one of the boats, while the expedition scrambled ashore over coral reefs at Aroaro Point and took cover in thick vegetation.

Back at Kariki, the expedition found the PNGDF still on their trail.

"A PNG helicopter descended over Aroaro Point and flew over the nearby Korovani village", said Gillespie. "It is understood from the description to be an Iroquois helicopter, one of those generously supplied by the Australian government with taxpayers' money for 'evacuation' purposes."

The people of Kariki village were terrified. Children screamed and sobbed hysterically. People ran into the bush to hide. About 10 or 15 minutes later, a PNG airplane flew overhead, so low that a person could be seen standing in the doorway with a gun in his hands.

Gillespie's son Lee has just left Bougainville after a one-month visit. He reports that PNG claims that the area is "too dangerous" to allow entry for a Red Cross plane carrying medical supplies are "rubbish". The only danger, he said, came from the PNGDF.

The Australian government has earmarked $57 million in military aid for PNG this year.

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