[Documents menu]History of Melanesia
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 97 15:46:57 CST
From: Norbert Braumann <i0080109%ws.rz.tu-bs.de@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu>
Subject: Troops in PNG "could be shot"

Troops in PNG "could be shot"

By Greg Roberts, in Sydney Morning Herald
22 November 1997

Australian troops taking part in a truce-monitoring force on Bougainville could be shot by renegade Papua New Guinean soldiers seeking to undermine the peace process, the military commander of the rebel Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), General Sam Kauona, said yesterday.

Speaking at peace talks in Cairns, General Kauona also warned that the fragile truce on the island could be shattered unless the PNG Government agreed to hold a referendum on independence for Bougainville.

In the first public comments by the BRA leadership since the truce was forged at a meeting last month in New Zealand, General Kauona also said a lasting resolution of the conflict will not be possible without the backing of rebel leader Mr Francis Ona, who has refused to take part in talks to date.

The general's hardline stance indicates that peace on Bougainville may not be achievable unless PNG backs down from its refusal to hold a referendum, which most observers believe would result in a vote overwhelmingly in favour of independence.

General Kauona said PNG should be left in no doubt of the consequences if a referendum was not held. "We would be back to square one." General Kauona said the assassination of the Bougainville Premier, Theodore Miriung, last year was a clear indication that elements of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), without the knowledge or approval of their superiors, would stop at nothing to ensure Bougainville remained part of PNG.

"The Australians and other truce-monitoring troops will be safe as far as we're concerned, they are unarmed and it will be our responsibility to protect them," General Kauona said.

"But parts of the PNGDF may have a hidden agenda and we don't know what is in their minds. Some of them do not want a solution and there is a feeling they will do anything to stop a solution."

A contingent of 14 Australian Defence Force personnel arrived on Bougainville on Thursday night in the first stage of a deployment of a 150-strong truce-monitoring force, almost half of whom will be Australian. The PNGDF will remain on the island until the signing of a formal cease-fire.

In another development which may antagonise Port Moresby, the Federal Government indicated that Australia may for the first time be prepared to fund the rebels directly by channelling some of the $135 million in aid promised for Bougainville to the BRA's political wing, the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG), which administers much of the island.

A spokesman for the Minister for Foreign Affairs said Australia was happy to discuss funding for projects with all groups, including the BIG.

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