By Steve Painter
What is foreign minister Gareth Evans trying to hide in Bougainville, asks Australian lawyer Rosemary Gillespie, just returned from a visit to the blockaded island, which she entered via a small boat from the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
It is impossible to believe that the Australian government doesn't know exactly what is going on in Bougainville, Gillespie told Green Left Weekly, yet it claims to be unable to verify reports of massacres and the use of Australian-supplied and -piloted Iroquois helicopters to terrorise and kill Bougainvilleans.
In response to statutory declarations collected by Gillespie detailing these events, Evans merely says such claims should be investigated "in the ordinary way", and are no cause even for an expression of concern to the PNG government. Is the foreign minister "afraid that his government's complicity in these crimes will be exposed?", Gillespie asked shortly after her return to Sydney.
Gillespie's evidence, collected from clergy, business people, chiefs and villagers, details incidents of murder, torture and at least two massacres committed by PNG troops since they began to reoccupy Bougainville in early May. She distributed material from the witnesses' statements at the South Pacific Forum meeting in Honiara on July 8-9. She says she was not able to travel widely on Bougainville, and the statements she collected are only "the tip of the iceberg".
Gillespie says Evans and Prime Minister Keating applied heavy pressure to other heads of government and representatives at the Honiara meeting to keep the issue of Bougainville off the agenda. She says there was support for a call by the Bougainville Interim Government for an independent fact-finding inquiry into the situation on the island.
In the biggest massacre, on May 17 or 18, PNG troops are said to have shot about 100 people in one village and burned it to the ground after the village chief admitted they had been celebrating Bougainville's independence day. There were two witnesses to the incident. Gillespie also heard reports that up to eight people had been killed in other incidents, and on one occasion two young men had been bound and left on a beach at the low water mark to drown when the tide came in.
In a statement prior to the forum, Bougainville Interim Government representative Moses Havini said around 5000 people have died so far as a result of PNG's attempts to prevent Bougainville's independence. Many casualties were caused by shortage of medical supplies due to the PNG blockade of the island. Gillespie says support for the Bougainville Revolutionary Army remains strong, contrary to disinformation provided to the media from PNG sources.
Meanwhile, as Gareth Evans insists that reports of massacres committed with Australian-supplied equipment on Bougainville are a purely internal PNG matter, he has become embroiled in a row with the Vanuatu government over new business regulations in that country!