By Frank Enright
Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) forces continue to maintain their defensive positions following the failure of the peace conference in October. "The cease-fire no longer applies ... But the BRA forces have not undertaken any actions", declares Moses Havini, international representative of the Bougainville Interim Government.
There is calm on the island — but it's the calm before a storm. The BRA wait with the full expectation of a major attack by the PNGDF, which, they believe, will begin around November 17.
Havini says that BRA intelligence sources became aware of PNGDF plans for a massive military campaign to finally retake central Bougainville, where the CRA-owned copper mine is located, on November 1. The BRA — which, as Havini points out, is in no position to fight a conventional war due to a lack of military resources — remains in control of the Panguna copper mine and surrounding areas.
Since the end of October, the PNG government has tightened the blockade of the island, denying access to medical and other humanitarian aid, a practice that has already caused thousands of deaths, especially among children and the elderly.
Radio Free Bougainville reports that on November 6, plans were uncovered by the BRA revealing that the PNGDF is contemplating carpet bombing central Bougainville. Intercepted instructions to the PNG forces order troops to build fortifications for their protection during the bombing, after which troops will be expected to "evacuate the civilians who will be likely to call out for immediate help with injuries", said the radio report.
Havini told Green Left Weekly that the operation is in place but that its use is contingent on the Australian government providing the resources, because PNG's economy is in free fall.
While the current lull in military operations persists, political developments proceed. In south Bougainville, Havini reports, 47 members of the local Resistance — forces which collaborate with the PNGDF, and many of whom are former BRA supporters — have broken ranks and regrouped with the BRA in the jungle, taking a number of modern weapons and ammunition with them. According to Havini, the action stems from the disappointment felt by most Bougainvilleans at the failure of the peace conference.
A former acting judge, Theodore Miriung, who led a group in signing a peace deal with Chan during the failed peace conference, is reported to have been forced to step down as a representative of the people. A public meeting on November 4 in the village of Sipuru rejected Miriung and rallied behind the BRA and BIG leaderships.
"Papua New Guinea manipulated it [the conference] in such a way that made it difficult for the people of Bougainville to use it as a forum to seriously discuss the question of self-determination and independence", says Havini.
"A lot of Bougainvilleans, on Bougainville as well those living outside, especially those living in Port Moresby, express the common concern that Papua New Guinea was rushing the so-called peace process." Many believe that two weeks was insufficient time to discuss the many issues confronting the war-weary people of Bougainville.
PNG Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan is himself very disappointed, says Havini, at the failure of the peace conference to bring about the solution that he wanted. "He has only himself to blame. We warned him very clearly from the beginning that for the talks to be successful the process of consultation had to continue right to the end.
"He cooperated with us until toward the end, then he decided to do it on his own when it came to the establishment of the South Pacific Peace Keeping Force, and the Status of Force agreement. That's when the breakdown of the talks began."
In retrospect, Havini believes that the negotiations and the peace conference were timed by the Machiavellian Chan to derail a planned intervention by the Bougainvilleans at the September session of the UN General Assembly, meeting in New York.
Havini was forced to flee the Solomon Islands after threats to the lives of BIG and BRA leaders. Havini now considers his life to be "under threat even in Australia. I have no reason to doubt that they can send agents here", he says.
The deputy leader of BIG, Joseph Kabui, speaking from Bougainville, claims that Chan's recent actions prove that his intention "was not to give us peace, but to capture us under the clever guise of the Australian-sponsored peace plan. If he really means peace then he should stop all forms of military operations and also withdraw all troops from Bougainville."
Reports of Chan deploying "hit teams" to assassinate BRA and BIG leaders are being taken very seriously. But, says Havini, who is taking security precautions, "We are continuing to extend our olive branch to him, and we are hoping that we can pick up the talks again with him within the next three months."