By Karen Fredericks
The existence of an armed conflict in Bougainville has been raised formally for the first time in the South Apcific Forum at the forum's 24th summit meeting which ended on Nauru last week.
During the summit New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger asked the Papua New Guinea government for a formal position report on the conflict, despite the PNG government's attempts to keep the war off the forum's agenda on the grounds that it is an internal matter. No reply has yet been made to Bolger's request.
International spokesperson for the Bougainville independence movement, Moses Havini, was denied access to the summit meeting but said on Radio Australia that he was pleased that the conflict had finally been raised by New Zealand. He also told Radio New Zealand that he belived Pacific leaders' attitudes on the Bougainville question were beginning to change because of church concerns over human rights violations on the island.
Earlier in the week, however, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Billy Hilly announced his intention to close the office of the Republic of Bougainville Interim Government in Honiara. He said his government supports PNG's actions on Bougainville and will assist PNG where possible. PNG Prime Minister Paias Wingti has welcomed the decision saying it is the first time the Solomon islands has had a government PNG can communicate with.
Moses Havini told Radio New Zealand that Bougainville is culturally and socially a part of the Solomon Islands and that no matter what the government in Honiara says, "blood runs deep".
Meanwhile, the war on Bougainville continues. According to the Republic of Bougainville Interim Government 30 members of the PNG Defence Force attacked Aropa Airport on Bougainville on August 7.
The operation, in which five PNG soldiers were reportedly killed, is the latest in a series of failed attacks on the airport at the mouth of the Sian River and part of the current PNG offensive against independence strongholds on the island.
In a larger strike on July 24 the Bougainville Revolutionary Army claims to have intercepted three motorised canoes on the beach at the river mouth, seizing weapons, ammunition and one of the canoes and killing at least 10 PNGDF soldiers. Air support was provided to the PNG forces by an Australian Iroquois helicopter. Despite helicopter fire directed at several villages the BRA says there were neither civilian nor BRA casualties.
One BRA soldier, Kopi from Mendi, was reportedly shot in the right knee in the August 7 attack. He died from loss of blood three hours after sustaining the wound. BRA soldiers monitoring the West Coast of the island have reported PNG troops camping on a small island of the mouth of the Java River. The camp has raised suspicions of a PNGDF advance on Panguna from the West Coast.