Logo: Solidarity South Pacific

Australian police head to Bougainville

The Age, 6 Sept 04

Nine Australian police officers will travel to the troubled island of Bougainville as part of a A$900m program to restore law and order to PNG. The Australian state and federal police will arrive in the Bougainville capital Buka on Tuesday, where they will receive a traditional welcome, including a foot-washing ceremony, a spokesman for the Australian High Commission in PNG said.

Bougainville is recovering from a 10-year secessionist war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and the PNG defence force, which ended in a ceasefire in 1998 and an agreement that the island would be granted self-autonomy by 2002.

While self-government has not yet been achieved in Bougainville, the United Nations Observer Mission to Bougainville (UNOMB) has given the PNG government until the end of the year to hold free and democratic elections.

The BRA, under the leadership of Francis Ona, launched a violent confrontation with the PNG national government in late 1988 as a result of deep grievances over the Australian-run Panguna copper mine in the island's south-east. The ensuing war became a struggle for independence, resulting in thousands of deaths and the destruction of the Bougainville economy.

Australian Federal Police Inspector Steve Hubert said the Australian contingent would work with Bougainville's police officers in the towns of Buka and Arawa, before moving on to the town of Buin in the island's south. Hubert said the Australian police would perform duties as directed by the assistant commissioner of police in Bougainville and would assist in patrols and in the training of local police officers.

The area around the now-closed Panguna copper mine is still considered a no-go zone, and is controlled by remaining members of the BRA.

A spokesman for the Australian High Commission in PNG said it was unclear if or how the Australian police would go about patrolling this area.

Under the five-year enhanced cooperation program, signed by Australian and PNG ministers last December, almost 300 Australian police and public officials will work with their PNG counterparts to tackle lawlessness and corruption. All 210 police officers and 64 public officials are expected to be in place in key crime spots throughout the country, including the capital Port Moresby and the Western Highlands city of Mt Hagen, by March next year.