[Documents menu]Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 97 08:29:51 CDT
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.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 crisis."

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.

June elections

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 first time.

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 seats.

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 minister.

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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