By Norm Dixon
Representatives of the interim government of the Republic of Bougainville have sharply condemned the Papua New Guinea government's April 13 invasion of northern Bougainville and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the troops.
"This aggressive act is contravention of the internationally witnessed peace accord [the Honiara Declaration], signed in January this year by PNG and the Bougainville delegation", the interim government representative to Australia, Moses, Havini said.
Havini rejected the PNG government's claim that village chiefs had requested the invasion in order to have medical and other government services restored.
He said that chiefs and people had requested only the normal introduction of services through the Bougainville Task Force set up under the Honiara Declaration. It included representatives of both the PNG government and the interim government of Bougainville.
"If the truth be known, the task force work vessel, the MV Sankamap, had only been carrying token amounts of desperately required medicines ... These latest events are nothing but the fulfilment of certain PNG cabinet ministers' well-known hidden agendas to foment civil war."
"To destroy bridges is no way to restore services and is no way to implement a peace accord", Havini added.
The minister for health in the interim government, Bishop John Zale also denied claims that it had refused to supply medicines to north Bougainville. In a statement issued in Honiara, he said that medicines had been distributed from the Arawa Medical Centre to all health centres currently open. Some of the medicine was still in Arawa because of lack of fuel — the result of the PNG government stopping or deliberately delaying fuel supplies from Rabaul.
The invasion was also condemned by the interim government's trade spokesperson, Mike Forster. Forster pointed out that in the Honiara accord both sides agreed to "refrain from the use of weapons" and to reject violence in favour of "meaningful consultation".
"The door has been shut to an internal settlement of this crisis", Forster said. "How is it possible for peace ever to be achieved now that PNG has violated yet another agreement?"
Patrick Itta, chairperson of the Bougainville Task Force, issued a statement on its behalf condemning the invasion. The attack, the statement says, "makes a mockery of the PNG signatures on the Honiara Peace Accord."
It also condemned the destruction of the Manetai bridge, which severed the only road link between the north and the rest of Bougainville. "The effect of these barbaric plans and acts will be that the movement of health personnel and equipment and immunisation drugs will be severely affected, gravely endangering the lives of 5000 or so children born during the crisis who have not been immunised."
The task force called on "all peace-loving countries in the region to condemn Papua New Guinea for this act of hooliganism" and demanded that all PNG troops be immediately withdrawn.
The Australian Council for Overseas Aid also deplored the attack. ACFOA's executive director, Russell Rollason, said that the action of the PNG military "has destroyed the trust and good will, little though it was, that had been built up over recent months between Bougainvilleans and the PNG government".