'End military aid to PNG'

Issue 

By Norm Dixon

The Australian government has "blood on its hands", Moses Havini, Australian representative of the Bougainville Interim Government, said in response to the lethal September 12 raid on Komaliae, a Solomon Islands village, by commandos of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

The raid left two Solomon Islands citizens dead. A three-year-old girl was shot through the knee.

The Solomons government described the attack as "barbaric" and "sadistic". The statement condemned the Australian government's supply of "lethal weapons with which PNG forces are killing Bougainvilleans and Solomon Islanders".

To emphasise its disapproval, the Solomon Islands refused to allow an Australian warship to berth in Honiara. There are indications that the incident may result in the Solomons recognising Bougainville's independence.

A seven-member fact finding mission sent to Komaliae by Honiara found the village store was riddled with at least 78 bullet holes. There was evidence that the murdered store owner was dragged from his bedroom before being executed with five shots at point-blank range. His sister and her baby daughter were shot as they tried to run away. The woman died of blood loss.

Australian role

Havini, speaking at a press conference in Sydney on September 16, said it was Australian government "money, military training, helicopter gunships, patrol gunboats, army planes and small arms and

ammunition that the PNG Defence Force has been using to kill and commit gross human rights violations" against the people of Bougainville and now against innocent villagers in the Solomons Islands.

He demanded that the government immediately end all military aid to PNG. He confirmed that the Australian-supplied Iroquois combat helicopters continue to strafe villages in central Bougainville and that PNG troops are active on the island. People on both the PNG and Bougainville sides have been killed in recent fighting. The blockade is enforced by Australian-supplied patrol boats.

"The government of Australia pays only lip service to ... human rights in the Pacific region", Havini charged. Australia is cooperating with "PNG to extend its political and economic control over the peoples of the Pacific at the expense of human rights and dignity".

Havini explained that Australian military aid was also being directed against the people of mainland PNG: "A Rapid Deployment Force has been created in PNG for the exclusive use of mining and petroleum companies. The emphasis is now internal security."

PNG was preparing to wage war "against its own citizens in the same manner that the war on Bougainville is being fought", he warned.

Australian military aid has contributed to a situation in which the recently elected government of Paias Wingti seems unable to control the PNG military. "The PNGDF are now their own bosses in Bougainville ... If the PNGDF becomes too powerful, then the ordinary citizens of PNG have something to fear in the future."

Havini called on Australia to support the call by

the United Nations Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in August for PNG to restore freedom of movement of all Bougainvilleans.

The Bougainville Interim Government is opposed to the suggestion of the prime minister of the Solomon Islands that Australian troops police the Bougainville-Solomons border, Havini said. "Our view is that Australia could not possibly be used to police the border ... because Australia is no longer a neutral force. It would favour PNG more than the Solomon Islands and Bougainville."

Decide own future

Havini's call for an immediate end to military aid to PNG was echoed by respected eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows, lawyer Rosemarie Gillespie, who is organising medical supplies to be sent through the blockade, and Peter Nusa, an activist with the radical Melanesian Solidarity organisation in PNG.

Professor Hollows said there were parallels between the struggle in Bougainville and in Eritrea. "The Bougainvilleans want two things. They want peace and they want a United Nations referendum to decide their future ...

"The Bougainvilleans have the right to decide their own future and live in peace and not be harassed by forces that are assisted by our military, either directly or indirectly."

Hollows urged the Australian government to push for democracy and human rights in the western Pacific; at the moment "what our government is doing is running exactly counter" to those principles.

"We should be very circumspect about [sending] guns and turning south-west Pacific into the mess that Africa has been turned into ... We should

not be supplying arms to these people; these people need economic development aid and medical support, and that's what we should be sending."

Hypocrisy

Rosemarie Gillespie slammed the Australian government's willingness to provide PNG with weapons and military funds and then deny any responsibility for deaths of innocent civilians in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

"The Foreign Affairs Department and minister for foreign affairs Gareth Evans are playing a totally hypocritical role. They ride the white charger of human rights in China, South Africa, anywhere but where Australian money is being used to violate human rights. The Australian government is up to its neck in this."

Melanesian Solidarity activist Peter Nusa agreed that Australian military aid, which is set at $31 million this year, could be put to better use providing social services and improved social justice. "Unfortunately, this military aid has been used for internal conflict and that has escalated a lot of human rights abuses not only on Bougainville but also on the mainland of PNG ... State violence in PNG is increasing at an alarming rate."

Gillespie announced that Australian supporters of Bougainville will attempt to take medical supplies through the blockade within a month. The medicines, including desperately needed injectable quinine to treat malaria, will be airlifted to the Solomon Islands and then taken to Bougainville by boat. She dismissed threats of violence from PNG opposition leader Michael Somare and deputy prime minister Julius Chan.

Moses Havini welcomed the initiative. The situation was critical, he said. "In the areas that are not controlled by the PNGDF, there are

virtually no drugs. Even in the areas that are under control by the PNGDF, medicine, food and other supplies are not plentiful."

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