AUSTRALIA MUST PROVE ITS NEUTRALITY IN BOUGAINVILLE

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SURRY HILLS, Australia (April 1, 1998 - The Guardian)---"The Australian Government must acknowledge the conflict of interest that exists between its established relationship with the PNG Government on the one hand and its growing responsibilities in overseeing the Peace Process on Bougainville on the other," said a statement issued by the Bougainville Freedom Movement (BFM).

For nine years the Government of Papua New Guinea waged a brutal war against the people of Bougainville with the aim of suppressing the independence movement and re-opening the Panguna copper mine owned by a subsidiary of CRA, now part of Rio Tinto.

Australia funded that war. It has given PNG between $32 million and $50 million per annum in direct military aid and larger amounts of untied aid.

Around 2,000 military personnel, almost half of PNG Defense Force, have been brought to Australia for training since the war started.

Australia also provided helicopters which were used as gunships, the patrol boats that enforced PNG's blockade of Bougainville, as well as ammunition.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people died as a result of that war.

Australia was not neutral in the war and is not seen by the Bougainvillean people as neutral.

Last year, New Zealand initiated a peace process which resulted in a truce and the deployment on Bougainville of a Truce Monitoring Group led by New Zealand.

The Bougainvillean people reluctantly accepted, in good faith, the involvement of some Australian personnel in that group.

Now, on the eve of a formal cease-fire, New Zealand has announced it can no longer afford to pay the bill for leading the peace operation.

"The people of Bougainville are rightfully insisting fair treatment with regard to an international peace process. Only a neutral party can guarantee leadership of this kind," said the BFM statement.

"Australia must realize it does not constitute a neutral position and should in all honesty decline the leadership role on Bougainville."

If the PNG forces withdraw from Bougainville as agreed, Bougainvilleans could be facing occupation by a far more powerful military force -- that of Australia.

If the Australian Government is genuine in its role in the peace process, then it could give New Zealand financial assistance so that it can retain its leading role.

This public article was forwarded by NOBBY N.BRAumann@tu-bs.de . Ciao

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