BOOK REVIEW: SEAN DORNEY MISSES THE BOUGAINVILLE FOREST AND THE TREES

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"The Sandline Affair: Politics and Mercenaries and the Bougainville Crisis" By Sean Dorney Sydney: ABC Books, 1998 352 pages AUS $24.95

Review by Max Watts in The Green Left Weekly of Australia

Since the Bougainville "crisis", (I'd call it the Bougainville war) erupted 10 years ago, Sean Dorney has been the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's permanent foreign correspondent in Papua New Guinea.

He has been in an unique position to cover that conflict. His book is the first in English about the "whole" war to appear since the series of cease-fire agreements that have -- perhaps permanently -- ended the shooting.

The Sandline Affair is an easy read, well written, and jam-packed with information. I have studied the Bougainville war intensely since 1992; even so I learned much from Dorney's book, for instance about the earlier unsuccessful attempt to bring in British mercenaries supplied by Defence Systems Limited.

Dorney has followed closely the first and second judicial inquiries into the Chan government's 1997 contract with the Sandline company to supply mercenaries and equipment to fight on Bougainville.

He brings out some fascinating details about the "bribery and corruption" within the Port Moresby elite, for instance how Benias Sabumei, once PNG minister of defence, received US$ 500,019 -- and 39 cents! -- transferred from Sandline's Hong Kong account to Sabumei's Citibank Brisbane account, but point-blank still refuses to tell to whom he then gave this money.

Since Dorney's book appeared, Sandline has obtained a judgment that PNG must honour the outstanding contract and pay another US$ 18 million -- plus costs -- to the (unsuccessful) mercenary killers. So sometimes you can make money even without murdering!

The "10 days that shook that world" -- March 16-26, 1997 -- which foiled the Sandline/Executive Outcomes mercenaries' foray into the Pacific, are described in detail. Those 10 days ended the probably last attempt to reconquer Bougainville, Rio Tinto's Panguna copper mine, by force of arms.

Dorney describes how, during these hectic days, the revolt inside the PNG Defence Force, initiated by high ranking officers, quickly spread to lower officers and to the rank and file soldiers.

The soldiers' revolt then sparked a widespread civilian "left-wing" uprising, not only against the mercenaries, but also against the war in Bougainville and against the corrupt, Chan-led, establishment.

Dorney's account also reveals how, when the officers -- afraid of their own success -- began to waver and retreat, the rank and file soldiers linked up their civilian allies and continued without, even against, their officers. This happened in Port Moresby after March 25, when Major Enuma told "his men" to return to the barracks, but the soldiers refused and remained at the parliament, protecting the civilian protesters from the police.

These developments are, on a smaller scale, remarkably similar to events in Portugal between April 1974 and November 1975.

There too an anti-war officers' revolt found enthusiastic support from the soldiers. After August 1975, the officers tried to stop the "movement", but the rank and file carried on.

The soldiers in Port Moresby forced Chan to "step aside", a first, but later seen essential, defeat. In Portugal the rank and file, almost alone, delayed the rightward counter-revolution for three long months.

That said, there is also much to criticise about The Sandline Affair.

I have followed Dorney's journalism, particularly his reports about the Bougainville war, closely for the past five years. He has always held fast to a certain line -- a line sadly followed by the ABC and -- less surprisingly -- by almost all Australia's establishment media.

Dorney's -- and the establishment's -- line has been that the Bougainville "conflict" is an internal PNG problem. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was --so this line-- quickly rejected by most Bougainvilleans, and Australia, so the line goes, has been only a neutral, concerned and benevolent bystander in a spontaneous revolt against the BRA, in a civil war.

Thus it is not surprising then that Dorney does not see -- or does not want to see -- the forest for the trees.

While I did not expect to find this "forest" in the book, I did expect to find the most important "trees" -- the facts.

As I looked -- in vain -- I was irritated greatly to realise that many facts are just not there.

Dorney does not want to see the essentials of the Bougainville war. Thus many facts about the war just cannot be mentioned. If the book is to remain coherent, a great many of these facts -- facts which cannot be obfuscated, twisted or explained away -- must, in the interests of inaccuracy, simply disappear.

Some of these essential facts are:

Dorney, who has no interest in revealing these "forests", therefore overlooks sometimes giant "trees", including:

As this remains unmentionable for Dorney, so he must also pass in silence over the multiple exploits of "our mercenaries." There is nothing in his book about who flew the choppers which machine-gunned pregnant women and sick children being taken to hospitals in the Solomons by Marist brother Bryan Leak, which killed unarmed boatmen and children on the roads in Bougainville, who flew the helicopter dumping the bodies of Bougainvilleans at sea because the Arawa morgue was already too full.

Dorney describes as "hypocrisy" Canberra's criticism of Brigadier Jerry Singirok, the officer who led the mutiny that got rid of Sandline.

The true hypocrisy -- Canberra's foaming furiously over the deployment of British-South African mercenaries, while passing in utter silence over the use of "ours" -- finds no place in this book.

Dorney provides many details about the history of the Bougainville war. For "experts" who have followed the events and can see what is missing, it is an interesting, valuable book.

But for the unwary or the less informed who do not know the missing "details,", this book is an untrustworthy, misleading, and self-censored work.

[A more complete analysis of The Bougainville War and the Sandline Affair is in preparation. A copy can be obtained on e-mail by sending a request to Max Watts at rosiek@bigpond.com .]

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

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