By Norm Dixon
The Australian government's recent decision to give Papua New Guinea another Iroquois combat helicopter, and to continue to fund the maintenance of the Australian-supplied helicopter fleet, can only further escalate the conflict on Bougainville, Bougainville's representative in Australia, Moses Havini, told Green Left Weekly.
"It is very sad because it will in no way slow things down ... These helicopters are still being used as gunships, and as [troop] transport vehicles."
Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke agreed in July 1989 to provide PNGDF with four Iroquois combat helicopters, spare parts and $1 million annually for three years towards maintenance and the employment of "civilian" pilots.
The helicopters were donated on condition that they not be used as gunships. That condition was flouted almost immediately. The craft have been used regularly to shoot innocent people from the air and to strafe villages. The helicopters were most recently in action over the village of Manetai in central Bougainville in late July.
At least two massacres have involved the aircraft, the most infamous being their use to dump the bodies of six executed Bougainville Christians. With its willingness to supply yet another aircraft, the Australian government tacitly approves their offensive role.
Australian and New Zealand mercenaries fly these death machines. Under Australian law, it is illegal to recruit any person in Australia to serve in or
with an armed force in another country. However, that ban can be waived by the government if a declaration is published in the Government Gazette.
On August 5, the Australian Guardian newspaper revealed that on July 20, 1989, the then attorney-general, Lionel Bowen, published such a declaration. It stated it was "in the interests of Australia to permit the recruitment in Australia ... of persons to serve in or with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force in any capacity for the purpose of facilitating the use of four Iroquois helicopters".
Amnesty International has called on the new Paias Wingti government to launch an independent judicial inquiry into reports that PNG troops have used Australian-supplied helicopters to kill civilians on Bougainville.
Amnesty called on the PNG government to allow international humanitarian and legal organisations access to Bougainville and urged PNG to ratify the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Moses Havini expressed disappointment at the failure of the new PNG government to move towards a cease-fire. Instead, there has been an increase in attacks from the PNGDF.
"There has been fighting near Torokina, in the western part of Bougainville, as well as in southern Bougainville", Havini told Green Left Weekly. "They are just minor clashes at this point. The PNGDF's idea is to move into Bougainville's centre, which they have not been able to do. They did land a small force at the village of Manetai, which is only about 16 kilometres from Arawa. They are holding there and that is all they can do.
"We were rather disappointed because the fighting took place during the weeks that Mr Wingti came to power. As soon as he came to power, the Bougainville Interim Government's first act was to call for a cease-fire ..."
Havini described this situation as "frightening" on two counts. "It could be that the PNG military is gaining more power over the government and, secondly, Mr Wingti is continuing with the line of the Namaliu government, and ... just agreeing to whatever the military wants to do on Bougainville."
Despite these setbacks, Havini told Green Left that the Interim Government will continue to promote dialogue.
Bougainville representative Mike Forster attended the UN Subcommission on the Prevention and Protection of Minorities in Geneva on August 10.
In a speech to the subcommittee, Forster said a cease-fire would be the first step towards implementing the fundamental rights and freedoms of Bougainvilleans. He outlined the lack of medical supplies due to the blockade of the island by PNG. This has resulted in a rapidly increasing infant mortality rate and mothers dying during childbirth.
Forster told the subcommittee that Australia is implicated in the suffering of the Bougainvillean people by the decision to donate the additional helicopter gunship. Australia is also training special units of the PNGDF. He called on the UN to send a fact finding mission to Bougainville.