Report: military aid to PNG to continue

Issue 

By Jon Land

Supporters of Bougainville have sharply condemned the June 8 Senate report on the Australian parliamentary delegation's visit to Bougainville in April.

"The Loosley report makes no mention of the fact that Australian arms, money and pilots are being used by the PNG army to kill Bougainville people", said Rosemarie Gillespie, spokesperson for the Bougainville Freedom Movement. "How can he claim to be a broker for peace when his government is arming one side?"

The report plays down Australia's role in helping the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) crush the independence struggle on Bougainville. The Australian government, it states, is obliged to help resolve the conflict on Bougainville. However, it does not call for an end to Australia's military and technical aid to the PNGDF.

The cross-party delegation, led by Senator Stephen Loosley, visited Bougainville in mid-April under the watchful eye and with the close collaboration of the PNG government. They declined an invitation to visit areas held by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) following a PNG government misinformation campaign that this would be unsafe.

As the parliamentary delegation was touring PNGDF strongholds, several Australian human rights activists slipped through the blockade and visited BRA areas. Loosley declined to meet with Jason Cornelius, an independent journalist travelling with this group.

Recommendations from the parliamentary delegation include plans for a regional peacekeeping force, the establishment of a human rights commission and the formation of a police complaints tribunal. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the report also calls for "adequate funding for PNG's own troops on the island". Australia's overall aid to PNG, which includes military aid, was increased in the last budget.

Australian-supplied mortars, gunboats and helicopters have been used in indiscriminate attacks on Bougainvillean civilians. These have increased following the departure of the Australian delegation.

A church was strafed by a helicopter in central Bougainville on May 29 while people were meeting for prayer, according to information received by the Bougainville Freedom Movement. On June 1, a whole village on Popok Island in Kieta Harbour was demolished by a PNG gunboat. Mortar fire accidentally killed three women at a "care centre" in Buin, south Bougainville on May 17.

The PNGDF carried out extrajudicial executions of five Bougainvillean civilians only one day after the Australian delegation had left.

The abuses by the PNGDF, frustrated over its inability to force a military solution, have come under the scrutiny of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Feeling the pressure, the PNG government has been forced to change the PNGDF forces stationed on Bougainville.

The release of the parliamentary report comes in the midst of peace talks between the PNG government and representatives of the Bougainville Interim Government in the Solomon Islands. These are the first significant steps towards a negotiated peace settlement since PNG violated the Honiara Peace Accord in 1991 and tightened the military and economic blockade on Bougainville.

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