Bougainville optimistic as PNG changes government

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

The Bougainville Interim Government has welcomed the election of Papua New Guinea's new government led by Paias Wingti. The interim government's representative in Australia, Moses Havini, told Green Left Weekly that he believed the new government would be more committed to a peaceful settlement of the Bougainville crisis.

"Namaliu was bent on trying to solve the problem through the barrel of a gun", he said, despite the persistent efforts of Bougainville's leaders to return to negotiations.

"Mr Wingti, while opposition leader and campaigning during the election, made a statement that as soon as he became prime minister he would open a dialogue with us. Although he still sticks to the hard government stand [that Bougainville must remain part of PNG] we hope that will change as time progresses."

On July 19, Wingti told his first press conference that his government would "be more open with" the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. He said he was prepared to resume talks with Bougainville's leaders.

The Bougainville Interim Government has proposed an early meeting in a bid to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. The proposal was made in a letter congratulating Wingti on his election signed by the Bougainville's spokesperson in the Solomon Islands, Martin Miriori.

Havini said that Bougainvilleans remain committed to talks: "We have continued to emphasise that the best way of solving the situation is to get back to the negotiating table".

The foreign minister in the Wingti caretaker government, John Kaputin, told a press conference on July 22 that the Bougainville crisis was "a national tragedy" that required a political solution. He said that the new government would not decide its Bougainville policy until after "full consultation" with all parties involved, "including the BRA".

Kaputin also announced moves to repair relations with the Solomon Islands, whose territory has suffered two recent military raids by PNG's Australian-supplied patrol boats.

In an effort to reduce tensions, Kaputin said he had declined to approve strongly worded diplomatic protest prepared in response to Honiara's decision to issue a passport to Bougainville Interim Government member John Zale.

Kaputin announced that an extraordinary meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (which groups the governments of PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) would be held in Vanuatu. While there, Wingti and Solomons President Solomon Mamaloni would hold talks to mend relations. Havini told Green Left Weekly that, prior to the general election, "the PNG Defence Force were planning to take the central region of Bougainville ... Towards the end of May and the beginning of June they made four attempted landings to try to retake Central Bougainville, but all these attempts failed."

Havini believes the PNGDF's military plans may be "somewhat thwarted by the election of the new government. I think the PNG military's stand is to now ease down a bit and see what the government will come up with.

"But of course Mr Wingti's biggest test will be if he can control the military ... I fear that the PNG military will increasingly flex its muscle and attempt to run the country."

Havini said that, whatever the PNG government does, "we are going to continue with our struggle. The bottom line is self-determination and independence for our people, however long it may take."

Bougainville urgently requires humanitarian assistance in the form of medical supplies and essential goods such as clothing and tinned foods. Bougainville's supporters are hoping to send these supplies through the blockade by boat in the near future. If Green Left Weekly readers can help in any way, they should phone Danny Brown on (03) 419 8700.

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