[Documents menu]History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 97 19:26:36 CDT
From: malecki@algonet.se (Robert Malecki)
Organization: Algonet/Tninet

A new left emergest in PNG; Bougainville enters a new - perhaps "post-war" - phase

By Max Watts, in Cockroach!
30 June 1997 and update 1 July 1997

At the time of writing we can note a series of almost contradictory, conflicting, developments in both Papua New Guinea and on Bougainville.

Although this is still less clear than in highly capitalised countries, it seems that a real LEFT/RIGHT political separation has developed in at least parts of Papua New Guinea.

This development may soon greatly affect PNG's long highly "personalised" political landscape. In the past, in the absence of firm political allignements, it has been easy for foreign based Capital - particularly in the mining, forestry and fishing sectors, to "buy up" - to openly corrupt - PNG politicians, unrestrained by any real party allegeances or clear-cut ideology.

Although still in its infancy, it seems that the new POLITICAL LEFT now emerging in PNG may have a chance of obtaining power in Port Moresby.

At the same time there are indications that some sectors of Australian Capital have recognised the unwelcome, but now considered inevitable, victory of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army BRA and its Bougainville Interim Government BIG.

These capitalists and their representatives in the Canberra government are now manoeuvering to limit the consequences of the Australian defeat, and are already planning for a "Post War"epoch on Bougainville.


The emergence of a nation-wide LEFT in Papua New Guinea was certainly advanced - unwittingly - by (then) Prime Minister Chan's "last chance" most counter-productive attempt to win the Bougainville war" by importing Sandline - Executive Outcome mercenaries.

The tensions created by the arrival of these mercenaries drove the Chan-appointed Army Chief Brig.Gen. Jerry Singirok into a "partial revolt". Singirok's main aim was the disarming, arrest and expulsion of the feared mercenaries, but he also attacked government corruption and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Chan, his deputy, Treasurer Chris Haveita and Defense Minister Matthias Ijape, the "Three Stooges" who had organised the Mercenary contract.

Singirok also called for an end to the war on Bougainville...

A de facto LEFT WING ALLIANCE quickly emerged in Port Moresby during the hectic "10 Days that shook this world" between 16th and 26th March 1997.

The military"spark-plugs" - General Singirok, the middle and lower ranking officers led by Major Walter Enuma, and the great majority of the rank and file soldiers - were quickly joined by thousands of civilian supporters.

These civilians were loosely organised and led by ad hoc groups of "NGOs" (Non Governmental Organisations) - in particular MELSOL (Melanesian Solidarity) PNG WATCHHOUSE and ICRAF (spell out)

Singirok at all times maintained that he was not conducting a coup against the civilian government. Thus he accepted Chan's order dismissing him as Commander of the PNG "Defence Force" - and on Tuesday, the second of the "ten days", Chan trumpeted in the complaisant media in Port Moresby and Australia, that the entire "revolt" had ended and that he, Chan, was again in complete control of the situation. Chan announced that the mercenaries would immediately be freed, re-armed and soon sent to Bougainville as planned.

For a days the civilians activist leaders of Melsol and Watchhouse, who were mobilising "civil society" against the mercenaries, against Chan and against the war, felt betrayed by what they considered Singirok's indecision, his "half-heartedness". They saw themselves facing the heavily armed police alone, without any support from the soldiers. Police commander Bob Nenta had rejoined the Chan camp after a brief flirt with the revolt.

But whatever Singirok's initial intentions had been, he had started mass movements, both inside the military and in the streets, movements over which he no longer had any control.

The rank and file soldiers refused to obey the orders of the new, Chan appointed, army commander, Colonel Aikung. They burned the car Aikung had been given by a Malaysian timber company for his "assistance" at a previous date and chased him out of the barracks.

On Wednesday, the third day, when Nenta's police fired on civilian demonstrators in front of Murray barracks, the soldiers on guard duty returned fire and drove the police away.

Armed soldiers joined anti-Chan demonstrators at the University, cheered wildly by the students.

In the meantime other soldiers, under the orders of Major Walter Enuma, completed operation "Rausim Quik", deposing the disarmed and rather frightened "frightful" mercenaries at Port Moresby's Jackson airport - whence they were very glad to leave soonest for Hong Kong and South Africa. Their commander, the retired British Lieutnant Colonel Tim Spicer, was kept behind for several more days and relieved of U$ 400.000 in cash, which he had stacked in his room and which the PNG tax department now claims for unpaid back income taxes...

Civilian demonstrations continued after the mercenaries had left. They now called for the resignation of the Chan government, for an investigation of government corruption, and - for peace in Bougainville.


Chan clung to power. On 25 March he - somewhat surprisingly - won a vote of confidence in Parliament by a large margin - (it is widely believed he paid many representatives much for their support). But this turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. The thousands of demonstrators, joined by several hundred soldiers, camping outside the building now peacefully but firmly blocked all exits and asked the parliamentarians to reconsider their vote.

The crisis point came in the early hours of 26 March, the "tenth day." Although even the "left-wing" Major Enuma had come to the parliament and had "asked" his men to return to the barracks, several hundred soldiers replied: "That would leave our friends, our comrades, the civilian protesters, to face the police alone. No, we are staying. We are the Defence Force, and we will defend them".

Although Chan, disguised as a policeman, had been able to escape on the previous evening, he realised that now he was - at least for the time being - beaten.

He returned to Parliament and agreed "to step aside" while a (very limited) investigation into corruption linked to the mercenary contracts was conducted.


But though Chan in theory had ceded executive power to an acting Prime Minister, John Giheno, he, and his allies in the Police and the Military, were preparing their counter-attack.

In the first week of May Nenta's police raided the offices of the anti-Chan civilian groups, Melsol, Watchhouse, ICRAF... Four leading activists, in particular Jonathan O'ata, who had organised the anti-mercenary movement and the marches on parliament, were arrested and charged with "Illegal Assembling". They saw documents which listed another 150 people "to be arrested" as soon as possible.

Soldiers, called to help, again drove the police away, but the "Leftists" were now between a rock and a hard place. Their analysis was that Chan, teleguiding these attacks from behind the scenes, hoped for an armed confrontation, and then would use this to declare a "State of Emergency" and cancel the national elections, scheduled for June 14 to 28. (PNG elections run over many days, as the "electoral commissioners" travel from one area to another, organising the elections as they go.)

Thus the Left refused to respond to what they felt were Chan's (Right-wing) provocations. When Chan - pre-empting the Acting Prime Minister Giheno's attempt to retain his position until he had analysed the "Sandline corruption" report - simply declared himself back in office, there were no major protests.

Chan immediately named a new commander, Leo Nuia, freshly promoted from Colonel to Brig. General, head of the PNG army. Nuia had commanded operations on Bougainville during the first years of the war, and had earned the title "Butcher of Bougainville" after proudly admitting on Australian Television that yes, he had dropped (previously tortured and killed) Bougainvillians into the sea from Australian Iroquois helicopters, "but only when the Morgue in Arawa was full".

Nuia had, already at that time, developed an active hostility to his then subordinate, Major Singirok, a hostility which has not decreased.

General Nuia has been attempting, with the help of a group of pro-Chan, or at least definitely anti-Singirok, Colonels, to destroy all traces, indeed all memory, of the March "Soldiers Revolt".

Above all he wants to eliminate what he calls "Buddy-Buddying"- close relations between officers and soldiers, enlisted men.

In the name of "professionalism" he has condemned "politisation" of the armed forces. And, just as Chan, Nuia does not want any more mention of the mercenary episode, although Chan sometimes murmurs that the Mercenaries could perhaps still return and ... recapture Panguna, destroy the BRA. `

The left, both in the streets and in the barracks, did not respond to these provocations.


The elections took place thruout PNG with only localised disturbances. Even on Bougainville, where the BRA/BIG had initially planned to prevent or at least disturb voting, there was a change of position after John Momis, was "kidnapped" and brought to meet Francis Ona, the BIG President, in Guava. After lengthy discussion between politician Momis and revolutionary Ona, the BIG/BRA agreed that they would no longer oppose voting on Bougainville, although some of the BRA units did not receive their new orders immediately.

As we write this on 30.6.97,(see update below) voting in all 109 PNG electorates has ended and many results are known. The decison of the Left - to actively participate in, and support the electoral process - now seems largely justified.

Whereas in the past voting had been dominated by local issues, and it had been impossible to organise on a real national program, this time voters - even when confronted with numerous "Independents", have

widely supported "anti-Chan", anti-mercenary, anti-corruption, pro-Landrights candidates, and have rejected many well-established parliamentarians who were associated with the mercenary operation, with the war against Bougainville.

Many who can be called "Right Wing" politicians, particularly those associated with Julius Chan, have been defeated or are trailing in partial results.

It seems as if even Chan himself, who had been considered a shoo-in, may lose his seat.

MELSOL leader and protest organiser Peti Lafanama, whose decision to stand as an Independent for a parliamentary seat in Goroka seemed like a "propaganda" move to many, is well ahead on incomplete results and may well become a leader of a left wing caucus in the Moresby Parliament.


In the meantime the war on Bougainville has - for the moment - almost died. If we can speak of wars dying !

The Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) and its Revolutionary Army, the BRA - have quietly extended their control over most of the mainland.

Although the PNG military is, theoretically, once again under the nominal command of "Butcher" (and fire-eater) Brigadier General Leo Nuia, the rank and file soldiers on Bougainville show little enthusiasm for offensive warfare. The Mercenary debacle showed that the PNG DF can indeed still act decisively when it believes in a cause, but after 8 years of killing and dying for Rio Tinto to recapture the Panguna mine, many soldiers have lost their enthusiasm for this battle.

Also, as the armament of the BRA has greatly improved and now includes many captured automatic weapons, the possibility for the PNG "Defence Force" to run "search and destroy" patrols outside their coastal bases has disappeared. These patrols had long been directed against the infrastructure of the Bougainvillians, above all against their food production. In the past - gardens - where the BRA could not defend them, were regularly destroyed; the women gardeners forced further up into the colder, less productive mountains.

Today the BRA controls much of the coastal plains and the food situation has enormously improved. Many villages - destroyed during the past eight years - have been rebuilt; schools and medical centers, though still greatly handicapped by lack of material which must transit the still existant, though much less effective, blockade, have been opened at many points.

BRA units operate over almost the entire mainland of Bougainville. They can even enter Arawa when - as during the early phase of the elections - their command deems it necessary.

Only the small northern island Buka and small areas in the South West remain completely under the military domination of the PNG military, but even there semi-clandestine supporters of the BIG/BRA are now more confidennt.

The Bougainville Transitional Government BTG, established on Buka in April 1995 by Chan to counter the Bougainville Interim Government, is openly negotiating with the BIG and is hoping soon to hold a joint conference with the revolutionaries in New Zealand.

After eight years of war, no one seriously believes the BRA can be defeated. The Panguna mine remains firmly in their hand.

Australian capital, which so long pushed PNG to continue the war against "the rebels", now seeks alternative solutions.

The Labor government, in particular Gareth Evans, was "married to the war". The Conservatives, less committed, realistically told Chan to start negotiations, to save what could be saved, as soon as they won the March 1996 elections. But Chan, sorcerers' apprentice, no longer listened to Canberra and again tried, from March 21 '96 onwards, "to win the war". His June-July '96 offensives failed decisively, and further demoralised the PNG army.

Only some local "Resistance" groups, armed and financed by Port Moresby, continue local offensive operations.

Now "neutral Australian Negotiators" approach the BIG/BRA, who were long ignored, and propose "training in the most modern negotiations techniques". Stock exchange heavies explain to BIG delegations in the Solomons that Panguna could be reopened under Bougainvillian control, with the strictest environmental safe-guards.

"If the Company fails to observe these, you can always close them down or throw them out then - just as the Nigerians have done with Shell" - an Australian financeer has been reported telling the BIG.

This obvious falsehood - Shell in fact remains firmly entrenched in Nigeria - may well illustrate the new tactics which the Bougainvillians will have to face in the up-coming Post-War period.

UPDATE, 1.7.97

Further, though still incomplete, election results confirm the above analysis. The biggest surprise has been the entirely unexpected defeat of CHAN himself.

MELSOL leader Peti LAFANAMA continues to maintain a commanding lead. Father Robert LAK, who defeated Paias Wingti in the Western Highlands, will probably join Lafanama in Parliament as the nucleus of a clear left wing caucus.

The Right has, however, not disarmed. Chan's Army Commander Brig Gen NUIA had placed Singarok's right hand man Major Walter ENUMA under arrest, but according to the latest available information Enuma has "disappeared"; other groups of left-wing soldiers have been arrested in the Highlands, were they have been accused by Nenta's police of "illegally participating" in the elections.

Singirok still remains in the Murray Barracks Headquarters "Flag House", "which I will vacate immediately I have been given alternative housing". He has also filed a law suit against his dismissal by Chan.

As no new government will be formed in Port Moresby for several weeks, there may be a power-struggle in Port Moresby between the Lame-Duck Chan administration, using the Police and the Nuia segment of the military, and the incoming new parliamentarians.

For further information please contact
Max Watts 61-2-9818.2343
Bougainville Freedom Movement 61-2-9558.2730
PO Box 134, Erskineville NSW 2043 Australia

Check Out My HomePage where you can, Read the book! Ha Ha Ha McNamara, Vietnam-My Bellybutton is my Crystalball!

Or Get The Latest Issue of, COCKROACH, a zine for poor and working-class people

Back issues of Cockroach and my book at http://www.kmf.org/malecki/ Contributions can be sent to <malecki@algonet.se> Subscribtions are free at <malecki@algonet.se> How often this zine will appear depends on you!

[World History Archives] [Gateway to World History] [Images from World History] [Hartford Web Publishing]