ABOUT 10,000 DIED IN DECADE OF BOUGAINVILLE CONFLICT

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SURVEY SAYS

By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 9, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---Around 10,000 people died as a direct result of the decade long civil war on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, a survey says.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 160,000.

As the war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and the Papua New Guinea Defense Forces (PNGDF) took place behind a media blockade, casualty estimates were often at wide variance between sides.

At times the death toll was given as high as 20,000.

A New Zealand negotiated truce is now under way ahead of a permanent peace settlement between the combatants next month.

The aid organization Oxfam New Zealand said figures from the non-government Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency (LNWDA) indicate that 7,639 civilians died as a direct result of the war. These included women dying in child birth or from diseases which, had it not been for the war, could have been treated.

LNWDA said 2,234 people from the pro-PNG Resistance side died.

It said an estimated 7,070 civilians were injured and 1,747 Resistance injured.

The number of BRA deaths is unknown, while the PNGDF deaths were thought to be less than 200.

Oxfam said "the pattern of conflict is one where civilians, especially women, children and the elderly, bore the brunt of casualties, many being brutalized by both sides."

LNWDA surveyed widows and single mothers between 1990-1994, where 921 women were listed as having lost partners.

Only 212 women, according to Leitana, were willing to specify who was responsible for the death of their partners.

According to these women, the BRA was held responsible for 94 deaths, or 44 percent, and the PNGDF for 79 deaths, or 37 percent.

Oxfam official Stuart Watson, who visited Bougainville to assess its development needs, said accurate casualties figures had been hard to come by but it was clear that in a relatively small population the deaths were "a very significant figure."

Watson said combatants themselves appeared to have not suffered high casualty figures because the war was a low technology guerrilla war.

"One of the features of this conflict was that there were no land mines or aerial bombardment," he said.

Michael J. Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-MAIL: afp.nz@clear.net.nz

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