Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG|
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 97 08:29:51 CDT
From: email@example.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: New Gov't Does Not Quell Unrest In PNG
New Gov't Does Not Quell Unrest In PNG
By Doug Cooper, in the Militant
Vol. 61, no. 31 (15 September 1997)
SYDNEY, Australia - The installation of a new government
has not brought stability to Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Simmering tensions boiled over July 28 in the capital, Port
Moresby, when a heavily armed Special Forces unit of the PNG
Defence Force (PNGDF) raided Boroko police station at dawn
and freed Maj. Walter Enuma.
Imprisoned since July 25 on charges of raising an
"illegal force" during the June national elections, Enuma
helped lead the March 17-26 military revolt against the
hiring of foreign mercenaries by the increasingly corrupt
and dictatorial regime of then Prime Minister Julius Chan
and headed the operation that deported the mercenaries.
The March mutiny sparked a mass revolt, with
demonstrations by youth, students, workers, rank-and-file
soldiers, and shantytown dwellers that gathered enough
strength to force Chan to step aside pending an inquiry into
the hiring of Sandline, a U.K.-based mercenary outfit. The
government had hired Sandline - at a cost of $US36
million - to prosecute the nine-year war to thwart
independence for Bougainville and restore operations at the
Australian-owned Panguna copper and gold mine.
After freeing Enuma, the Special Forces soldiers took
control of PNGDF headquarters at the Murray Barracks and
placed PNGDF head Brig. Gen. Leo Nuia under house arrest.
The one-day mutiny was not accompanied by street protests.
Newly elected Prime Minister Bill Skate, who took office
July 22 after weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering
following the June elections, met with the mutineers at the
barracks. Skate rejected their demand that a blanket amnesty
be granted to military and civilian participants in the
March revolt but issued an order that all charges be
suspended pending a second official inquiry into the hiring
of the mercenaries. This inquiry began in late August.
Meanwhile the PNGDF launched its own investigation into the
matter. It is the third investigation so far.
The Sydney Morning Herald immediately labeled Skate's
move a "capitulation" but editorialized August 1 against
taking any disciplinary action, fearing another "full-scale
Former brigadier general and PNGDF head Jerry Singirok,
who led the March revolt, was to have been charged with
"sedition" on July 29. During the revolt, Singirok was
sacked as Defence Force commander by Chan. Chan later
installed Nuia, known as the "Butcher of Bougainville" from
his time as head of operations there in 1990.
On July 10 Singirok was dismissed from the military.
Viewed as a hero by many for his role in March, Singirok has
since been discredited, especially among middle- and lower-
ranking soldiers and working people, after admitting he
received 30,000 ($US52,000) in secret payments from
Franklins, a British arms dealer and competitor of Sandline.
Australian minister for foreign affairs Alexander Downer
reacted to this latest stage in the PNG rulers' crisis with
arrogance typical of PNG's former colonial master. "I am
very concerned about this and I want to emphasize the point
that we expect the Papua New Guinea Defence Force - and by
that I mean every single member .. without exception - to
respond to the instructions of the civil authority."
In a further indication of the deepening crisis of
governmental authority, however, the police defied Skate's
directions and reissued their warrant for Major Enuma, the
Herald reported August 1.
PNG politics has generally been volatile, with around 50
percent of incumbent politicians losing their seats at each
election. This time, 56 of the 109 MPs were elected for the
But in results unprecedented in Westminster-style
parliamentary elections anywhere, Chan, two-time former
prime minister Paias Wingti, and former acting prime
minister John Giheno - whom Chan installed after stepping
aside during the first Sandline inquiry - all lost their
Skate, the People's National Congress parliamentary
leader and Port Moresby regional governor, ran on a campaign
of anticorruption rhetoric after having called on several
top government officials to resign during the March crisis,
including Chan's deputy prime minister, Chris Haiveta. In
office, however, he reappointed Haiveta as deputy prime
Jerry Wais, a student at the University of Papua New
Guinea, a center of the anti-Chan protests, said, "Bill
Skate told all the students that he would fight corruption,
so we supported him. He betrayed us."
Vikki John, a leader of the Sydney-based Bougainville
Freedom Movement, told the Militant from Port Moresby July
28 that there was widespread anger and dismay at the
formation of the coalition government. But the last-minute
decision to back the government by prominent activist
leaders of the March revolt who stood for Parliament as
Independents and won, such as Melanesian Solidarity (Melsol)
leader Peti Lafanama and Father Robert Lak, who defeated
Wingti. University students are planning a public meeting to
demand an explanation.
University student Joe Ala summed up the June election
results this way: "Now we realize that the same government
is still in power. Although there is a different captain,
it's the same ship with the same crew." Meanwhile, soldiers
at the Murray Barracks in Port Moresby reportedly asked to
be relieved of duties in mid-August because of a food
shortage. PNG's National Broadcasting Corp. said the
soldiers, who had not been fed for two days, were buying
their own food to cook outside the barracks; similar
shortages were reported at other military bases as well.
Doug Cooper is a member of the Australian Manufacturing
Workers' Union in Sydney.
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