Mines laid in Solomon Islands waters


By Norm Dixon
and Tom Jordan

The Papua New Guinea government is tightening its military blockade of the besieged island of Bougainville and has mounted further attacks on the civilian population.

The latest escalation came to light on April 24, when Solomon Islanders witnessed a big explosion in the waters that separate the Solomons' Shortlands Province from southern Bougainville.

The blast seems to have been the result of a covert PNG Defence Force mine-laying operation gone wrong. Leaders of the Bougainville Interim Government had earlier accused the PNGDF of laying mines between Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

The explosion was witnessed by villagers from Kariki, the Solomons village attacked by PNGDF patrol boats in March. The blast was also seen by the pilot of a Solomons Airlines flight passing the waterway at the time and the crew of a Solomon Islands coastal ship, the MV Mawo II.

The witnesses said the blast occurred in the vicinity of a PNGDF patrol boat. Afterwards, helicopters were seen flying to and from the patrol boat, indicating that there may have been deaths or injuries among the crew.

A source close to the Bougainvilleans with knowledge of mine technology told Green Left Weekly that it "was quite clear that only highly sophisticated mines would be any use whatsoever against the shallow-drafted speedboats [used by the people of Bougainville to breach the blockade]. The questions that arise are: has the PNGDF got such mines, and where did they get them from?

"If they haven't got them, and they are laying contact mines, they are likely to blow up Solomons Islands coastal shipping, or themselves, rather than shallow-drafted speedboats."

The chairperson of the Bougainville Interim Government, Joseph Kabui, condemned the laying of mines. "Trying to kill by sea mines in the only passageways where the suffering people of Bougainville can get urgently needed medicine and medical assistance is like refusing an undernourished baby the milk it urgently needs ... In the interest of humanity and sanity, I ask all peace-loving peoples within our Pacific region to condemn this latest form of sabotage and continued inhuman treatment by the PNGDF of the people of Bougainville."

Reports of the explosion and the Bougainvilleans' accusation that the PNGDF is laying mines in the waters of the Solomons have been studiously ignored by the Australian media.

The PNG military has launched several unprovoked attacks on Bougainville civilians in recent weeks. On April 7, two small boats were intercepted by speedboats launched from a PNGDF patrol boat. One was blown out of the water, and two of the three crew were killed. The boat had been carrying medicines supplied by a Catholic mission in the Solomon Islands.

According to reliable sources in Bougainville, anger provoked by that incident contributed to the widely reported death of Anthony Anugu, a pro-PNG Bougainvillean from the southern Siwai region of Bougainville. He had negotiated in Port Moresby for a secession of the southern region from the Bougainville Interim Government. After he landed in Siwai, his proposals were rejected "in no uncertain terms" by the local chiefs — not the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, as claimed by the Australian press.

The chiefs placed Anugu under house arrest. Green Left's sources report that Anugu broke his house arrest repeatedly and was discovered making preparations for a PNGDF landing. After repeated warnings, and following the brutal deaths of the Bougainvilleans in the waters off south Bougainville, he was shot by the BRA as a traitor on April 10.

Just two days later, PNG patrol boats attempted a landing at Mamantonga in the Siwai district. The landing was repelled with casualties. Contrary to reports in the commercial Australian press, the south remains firmly under the control of the BRA and the Bougainville Interim Government with the support of the local people.

Moses Havini, the Bougainville Interim Government representative in Australia, told Green Left Weekly that Australian-made and supplied Nomad aircraft are now being used by the PNGDF to attack Bougainville. On April 16, such an aircraft made "a low-level flight over Panguna, Arawa and the Kieta airport". Between Arawa and Kieta, it opened fire on a family in a truck, wounding a 10-year-old child who died later at the Arawa hospital.

Havini repeated his call for all Australian military aid to PNG to be stopped "forthwith". "It is a very clear fact that the assistance that goes to PNG from Australia in terms of military hardware, from 1989 onwards, has been directly used on Bougainville."

Havini said he was disappointed that Prime Minister Paul Keating had ignored the requests of the Bougainville people and continued to pledge aid to the PNG military and police during his visit to Port Moresby. However, Havini added that he thought Keating's comment on Bougainville in PNG "was a much bolder statement compared with former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Senator Gareth Evans. He ... promised continued humanitarian assistance from Australia and also that he wanted to see the situation on Bougainville was resolved peacefully rather than with continued violence."

Havini told Green Left that the Solomon Islands government "has now taken a much firmer stand on the Bougainville situation ... They are trying to get the views of the Pacific countries on the Bougainville issue prior to it being raised during the South Pacific Forum, which will be held in Honiara in July ... In Europe, the first stop will be in England, to see the Commonwealth Secretariat to raise the question of sending in a multinational peacekeeping team to Bougainville."

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