[Documents menu]History of Melanesia
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 96 12:02:45 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Bougainville Premier Killed As Independence Fight Heats Up

Bougainville Premier Killed As Independence Fight Heats Up

By Bob Aiken, in the Militant
Vol. 60, no. 41 (18 November 1996)

SYDNEY, Australia - Theodore Miriung, Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG) premier, was assassinated in southern Bougainville October 12. Eyewitnesses saw gunmen fleeing the scene being picked up by Papua New Guinea (PNG) military transport and taken in the direction of the PNG army base nearby. There have been reports of up to eight PNG soldiers being in the vicinity of the killing, along with at least one member of the "Resistance" militia organized by the PNG army.

Miriung was one of the leaders of an independence movement on Bougainville in 1975-76 that won a degree of autonomy as a province within the newly independent Papua New Guinea, a colony of Australia until 1975. He rose to become an acting National Court judge, but returned to Bougainville in 1990 after the war for independence had begun.

Later, in 1994, he broke with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Bougainville Interim Government (BRA/BIG) to enter negotiations with PNG and establish the BTG. Miriung was appointed Bougainville premier in early 1995 by the PNG prime minister Sir Julius Chan. Miriung was murdered as the independence movement, led by the BRA/BIG, has dealt sharp blows to the PNG's military operations. Conflicts between Miriung and the PNG authorities had also deepened.

Last June, Miriung publicly opposed a major PNG military offensive, the largest of the seven year war. He has also condemned conditions in the "care centers" set up by Port Moresby, where up to 70,000 of Bougainville's population of 160,000 have been resettled. Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea.

In August, the PNG army blocked Miriung at gun point from addressing the opening of the Inter-Church Women's Forum held in the Bougainville capital of Arawa. The August 25-31 gathering of 700 women from across the PNG-held part of Bougainville demanded that they be given a role in peace talks, and called for the closing of the care centers and the withdrawal of PNG troops.

Following a major battle at Kangu Beach in southern Bougainville September 8 in which 13 PNG soldiers were killed and five captured, PNG Defense Minister Mathias Ijape ordered Miriung be placed under "military surveillance." Ijape also banned Miriung from traveling outside Buka Island where the BTG administration is based. Ijape also said he was recommending that Miriung be "removed as premier", accusing him of "inciting BRA activities on the mainland."

BRA/BIG president Francis Ona strongly denied allegations from PNG Defense Force commander Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok that the BRA was involved in the assassination. "The assassin's motive strongly points towards two factors: Miriung's hard stand against the military solution by PNG on Bougainville, and the stalling of the current peace process, of which Miriung was the thin link between the BIG/BRA and the Papua New Guinea government," Ona said in a statement released October 13.

The BRA and BIG had "fully supported Miriung's efforts, dropping all doubts about his intentions," Ona said, pointing to the two rounds of talks that had taken place between the BIG and BTG in Australia in late 1995.

"Both sides in Bougainville" had been "devastated" by the killing, Moses Havini, the BIG's Sydney-based international representative said in a phone interview with the Militant. "The onus is on the PNG government to let the world know if any of their members were involved. The culprits must be brought to justice," he said.

"Putting the peace process back on track would be our first priority", Havini said, something that "the PNG government was already working aggressively" against before Miriung was killed.

"PNG relies heavily on Australia to continue" the war, Havini said, calling for continued pressure on Canberra to halt military aid to Port Moresby.

Bougainville is the site of a giant copper mine, closed by the war, owned by the Anglo-Australian corporation CRA/RTZ. There are a number of major Australian-owned enterprises in PNG.

The Australian government has supplied nearly $200 million in military aid to Port Moresby since 1988. Despite this, the war is a major reason for the sharp financial crisis that is wracking the neo-colonial government in Port Moresby. In recent years, Canberra has also sought to broker a peace settlement short of granting Bougainville independence.

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