CANBERRA CONSIDERED ARMY CONTROL OF BOUGAINVILLE MINE

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CANBERRA, Australia (January 4, 2000 – Post-Courier)---Australia’s role in the shaky peace process of the Bougainville conflict in PNG is likely to come under further challenge from independence supporters following new revelations found in previously secret Australian Government documents.

These documents reveal that Canberra considered the use of military force to overcome landowner opposition to the development of the Bougainville copper mine -- the source of restiveness that later became a full-blown rebellion that has yet to be fully settled after 11 years.

The previously secret 1969 Cabinet submissions were released to the public on the first day of the new year by the Australian Archives office.

They revealed that even before the construction of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville island, the Australian Government knew of the mounting landowner opposition to the project and discussed the possible need to use military force to ensure it proceeded.

Before Independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea was administered by Australia.

Conzinc Rio Tinto (CRA), an Australian mining company, was pushing to develop the massive copper deposit that became the Panguna mine.

A 1969 intelligence committee report, appended to one of the Cabinet submissions, reveals that officials ridiculed mine opponents as "collaborators with the Japanese'' during World War II; dismissed as "suspect'' the motives of a member of Papua New Guinea's Parliament leading concerned landowners; and argued that he was ''probably motivated by self-interest.''

In a submission to Cabinet in April 1969, the Minister for External Territories, C.E. Barnes, informed his Cabinet colleagues of opposition to the mine proposal before the project had even been established, the documents revealed.

Barnes said that ''until CRA has entered into occupation of the land that it requires, difficulties with the native people, including in some areas opposition to the acquisition of land or pressure for secession, may be expected.

"If the CRA project is allowed to falter the government's policy for the economic, social and political development . . .will be placed in jeopardy,'' he warned.

Barnes said the Australian Administration could also ''be liable to pay substantial damages to CRA'' if the project did not proceed.

Barnes discounted the prospect of a secessionist movement emerging as "unlikely,'' but conceded that there was "a possibility of passive or active resistance to the occupation of land in conjunction with the CRA project."

Barnes urged his Cabinet colleagues to consider the "deployment of elements of the Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR).'' He noted that the Cabinet had already given its approval for "planning to be put in hand for the provision of military assistance as a last resort.''

The Cabinet was less enthusiastic than Barnes, referring his proposal to an Inter-Departmental committee.

In a separate submission in August 1969, Barnes supported a proposal from CRA that they be allowed to use up to 1,600 Asian workers for the construction of the project.

"It is suggested that workers indentured from Asian countries are more amenable to control and discipline and would be less likely to cause serious social problems on Bougainville than large numbers of Australian or European construction workers,'' he wrote.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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