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Date: Tue, 4 Mar 97 11:18:37 CST
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net.
Subject: Mercenaries in Action in New Guinea

Secessionists in Papua New Guinea say British, South African Mercenaries in action

From Agence France-Press
3 March 1997

SYDNEY (Mar 3, 1997 07:49 a.m. EST) - South African and British mercenaries have begun reconnaissance missions over Papua New Guinea's war-ravaged island province of Bougainville, secessionist rebels charged here Monday.

The Bougainville Revolutionary Army's Sydney-based spokesman Moses Havini told reporters a dispatch had been received from the area on Monday stating that a small party of mercenaries had been sighted on the South Pacific island.

An Iroquois helicopter gunship was observed dropping an unidentified object on Mount Poruka in central Bougainville on Friday and two more helicopters had been spotted flying over the region on Saturday and Sunday.

Three members of the crew were identified as mercenaries, Havini said.

His claim followed weekend reports from rebel sources that 170 "foreigners" had already landed on Bougainville and that up to 190 paid fighters had been hired by Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan's PNG government.

Havini said the mercenaries were on the island to conduct "surgical operations" aimed at wiping out rebel leaders.

A number of countries have protested to PNG about the use of mercenaries, which Australia says will not end the nine-year conflict sparked by a dispute over royalties from the rich Panguna copper mine owned by Australian mining giant RTZ-CRA.

"The only way you can solve that problem is by genuine negotiation," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said over the weekend. "We've put that to the prime minister of PNG repeatedly."

Chan stressed Monday his nation was determined to settle the ownership issue over the giant Panguna copper mine which has been the centre of a civil war on the island of Bougainville.

He had earlier said his government was to approach RTZ-CRA to buy out its 53.9 percent stake in the open cast copper mine at Panguna. Until the conflict began 10 years ago, the mine produced nearly half of Papua New Guinea's total export earnings.

The conflict grew out of claims by Panguna land owners for compensation for land lost to the mine and other land damaged by mine wastes.

"This new initiative is Papua New Guinea's opportunity to address some long held grievances by both Panguna landowners and all Bougainvilleans," Chan said Monday.

"The mine was the root cause of the problem," he said. "This is a post colonial legacy left to us after independence, an issue that my government refuses to let slide any further."

If the government buyout of the mine is successful, it would enable the government "to restructure ownership, financing and operational aspects" allowing compensation and a reconstruction package to settle landowner disputes over royalties, Chan said in a statement.

Bougainville's interim government president Francis Ona said in a statement released by Havini that a peaceful settlement was impossible "while the PNG government holds an axe in one hand and sugar in the other."

"Chan probably suffers from memory lapse," Ona said.

"We have unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the PNG government under the existing Bougainville Copper Agreement for the last 25 years now."

He also said the rebels were "happy" with steps taken by Australian Prime Minister John Howard to oppose the use of mercenaries.

RTZ-CRA said it had not yet received an offer for the mine.

The nine-year conflict has continued despite accusations of human rights abuses by both sides.

Last week Amnesty International charged that the international community was turning a blind eye to the war.

Copyright &38; copy 1997 Agence France-Presse

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