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The small country of Bougainvllle is by geography, race and culture a part of the Solomon group of islands in the Pacific. The island, 170 miles long by 30 miles across, was taken from its people and given to Germany in the 19th century carve-up by the European colonial powers. After the First World War, Bougainville, New Ireland and New Britain were thrown together along with Papua under Australian control, and in 1975 they became the independent territory of Papua New Guinea. The people of Bougainville are very different from the others in the territory; they are black, really black, the darkest race in the Pacific, and proud of it.

The revolution which began in November 1988 has effectively destroyed the island of Bougainville, which once had the world’s biggest copper mine. Because of the copper, the island has been blockaded; a sort of modern seige by the Pupuan government. Some Bougainvilleans have been forced to strike deals with the Papuan authorities to end the blockade that has cut off Bougainville from the rest of the South Pacific, and negotiate a settlement on the Papuans’ terms.

Bit by bit a pincer is closing in on the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), and because of the blockade there is no prosperity, no medicine, no social services, or fuel; there is no fertiliser so it is hard to grow crops, and the jungle is taking over again. The BRA has adopted the motto To Create Something Out Of Nothing — which they will inevitably need to do, since everything of value on the island has been destroyed.

The plantations on the coast and the modern infrastructure in central Bougainville — an infrastructure which was created to serve the giant opencast Panguna copper mine and not the people — have been systematically wrecked. The Papua New Guinea forces were driven off the island by the BRA in March 1990, but they keep coming back and have made sure that nothing on the island will work.

When the Papuans were forced to abandon Bougainville the Panguna mine, six miles in diameter and looking like a huge dried ulcer amid the surrounding greenery, remained as a symbol of everything the 110,000 people of Bougainville dislike about their forced relationship with Papua New Guinea. The mine has polluted the landscape since it was set up in the sixties; compensation has been insufficient and the wealth of Bougainville is being removed from, not added to, the island…. the uprising is a Third-World rejection of everything the First World has to offer.

The copper mine in Bougainville was 53% owned by the Australian mining firm CRA — which in turn is 49% owned by the “British” multinational giant Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ).

RTZ is also part-owner of the Freeport copper and gold mine in West Papua. The Indonesian armed forces are being used and paid for by RTZ to protect the company, which has won a huge new concession that will destroy the natural wealth of millions of hectares of rain forest, and dispossess many thousands of native people who have nurtured the forests for millenia. The Indonesian armed forces have initiated action against the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) resistance movement, and also against peaceful demonstrations of dissent. Operations on behalf of RTZ have had a devastating impact on the local civilian population, causing great loss of Iife and spreading terror; these are major initiatives to crush all resistance to the company and to physically “cleanse” the territory of local people who are regarded as a threat to its activities.

Back on Bougainville the BRA dismisses any alternative to independence :
Free association is not an option. We have vast resources, we can stand on our own…. the wealth of Bougainville belongs to our people, not to a faceless multinational company!

The Papua New Guinea government and RTZ decided that after nine years of fighting the BRA it was time to bring in foreign troops to regain that huge wealth which does not belong to them. So the poverty-stricken government of Papua New Guinea agreed to pay a London based military consultancy company (ie. British government approved mercenary company) A$36m (£22 million) whilst Papua New Guinea is receiving A$320m in aid from Australia…. this was £22 million of aid being diverted from their needy people.

The poorly-equipped BRA would have stood no chance against this highly professional and unscrupulous private military organisation…. who do not take prisoners.

The soldiers hired were mainly South Africans. The government of South Africa is unlikely to protest too vociferously — if at all — about this employment of its nationals. The rulers of the old South Africa had close links with Taiwan; the ANC when it became the new regime were in deep financial trouble, and Taiwan was not an option for bailing them out — so they accepted large donations from the dictatorship in Jakarta ….

The “British” company is called Sandline International; it shies away from the label of “mercenary”. However, its operation is exactly that; Sandline are willing to go to a country which does not concern them and kill its citizens for money, to clear the way so a multinational company can strip its assets. Sandline International says it will only accept projects which “receive the endorsement of the International Community”, and that it has four operating principles :

  1. It will only undertake projects acceptable to key western governments, such as the US and the UK.
  2. It will only undertake operations that are legal and moral.
  3. It works only on behalf of internationally recognised government regimes.
  4. Operations must be conducted within the boundaries of client governments.

In fact, Sandline International has no “principles” whatsoever.

POSTSCRIPT : Thanks to the Papua new Guinea forces turning against their government’s policy, the mercenaries were deported before they could go into action. They may still be paid for the aborted mission. It remains to be seen what will happen in Bougainville once it has dropped from the headlines and from public memory…..

Source : FALINTIL / OPM, on behalf of the BRA and people of Bougainville


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