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For 10 years there has been no real civil authority on the war-torn island of Bougainville. David Scoullar, a journalism teacher at Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea, visited this month. He reports on an unheralded pilot project, which promises to have a big impact on the return to normality in Bougainville communities.

By David Scoullar

BUKA, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (April 27, 2000 - Divine Word University/PINA Nius Online)---Community ownership is at the heart of a New Zealand-led policing project designed to increase the level of security on Bougainville.

It is hoped the community policing model which has been successful in New Zealand can be adopted here.

The first group of community police trainees is expected to begin a four to six week course in early May.

The training of some 40 local men and women in the Bana district of southwest Bougainville follows exhaustive consultation with local communities.

New Zealand Police Inspector Tony Annandale, leader of the team of advisors for the Bougainville Community Policing Project, said: "Our challenge is to work alongside the Council of Elders system. Not for it but alongside it. We're trying to give them (local people) as much ownership of the program as we can."

This includes getting communities to select their own trainees, appointing course coordinating committees involving the locals and conferring on local customs and procedures to solve community problems.

Mr. Annandale was formerly the manager of the recruit training group at the New Zealand Police College.

Other members of the project team are New Zealanders Detective Sergeant Linda Retemeyer and Tony Cameron, plus an Australian, Nigel Hogan.

Linda Retemeyer and Mr. Hogan (a former policeman who previously worked on policing projects on mainland PNG) are the training advisers.

Mr. Cameron, who spent two years in the Solomons as a volunteer with the New Zealand Catholic Overseas Volunteer Service and later coordinated that group, is the logistics and administration officer.

The project, equally funded by the New Zealand and Australian governments, is set for one year. At this stage three training courses are planned, but a fourth will be considered if time and resources allow.

Even four courses will cover only a small part of bush-clad and mountainous Bougainville, which has a population of 165,000.

Many young people here have never known what it is to obey any system of civil or customary law.

The team arrived at its base in Buka, an island just north of Bougainville island, in March.

When I spoke to Mr. Annandale in his cramped office at the Buka Police Station he had just returned from 10 days in the bush, sleeping in saksak (sago palm) houses in villages and cooking over open fires.

The team met representatives of Bana district community groups.

Points discussed included local law and order issues, the selection and role of suitable trainees and administrative support issues after the course.

"We're encouraging every community to develop their own initiatives to deal with law and order problems," Mr. Annandale said.

"There was an expectation that we'd solve all the problems, but people shouldn't sit and wait for us to come.

"We tell them we're the policing experts, you're the experts in community knowledge. It's a partnership."

He said the targeted communities had welcomed the policing initiative and others were crying out for the project to come to their area.

In Bana, about 200 candidates vied for the 40 policing positions (30 men and 10 women). A deputation even arrived by canoe to seek the extension of the initiative in their district.

"The model suits this country so well," Mr. Annandale said.

The first course, to be conducted by trainers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, will focus on problem solving, conflict resolution and basic policing skills.

Trainees must live on site for the course. On graduation they will be sworn in as auxiliary members of the police and will have statutory powers to enforce PNG law. They will wear a uniform but won't be armed.

Mr. Annandale said the theme of training was "communities working together with police."

"The success of the project will require a commitment from every member of the community," he said.

"We believe that law and order problems can only be solved if everyone plays a part in addressing the problems.

"It's also essential that all the community police officers are supported by the entire community once they have graduated. After all, it's the community who have selected them to carry out work they have decided is important."

Communities have been asked to invest in the training of the officers by providing accommodation for the trainees and trainers during the course.

"This is not to save money but to symbolize the commitment the community has towards supporting their community police officers," Mr. Annandale said.

"The team also encourages communities to continue developing initiatives to deal with local problems."

Liquor sales are banned in the North Solomons province, but he agreed home brew made from pineapples, known locally as JJ (short for jungle juice) underlay many problems.

Drinking of the potent JJ is widespread.

Reviewing progress in the initial weeks, Mr. Annandale said the team had had its "ups and downs."

While living in the villages away from home comforts had been a little difficult at times, the main problems had been logistical.

Because of the remoteness of the areas in which they work, much of the travel is by helicopter. This is just as well as Mr. Annandale said the roads were "shocking."

He described a "white knuckle" drive of two hours in an old ute with no brakes or shock absorbers and a plastic bottle of fuel placed dangerously close to a large battery.

The saving grace had been the "unbelievable" skill of the driver in getting the vehicle through bogs and rivers.

"These guys would clean up all the off-road competitions in New Zealand," he said.

The second training course for community police officers will be preceded by another comprehensive consultation period as the team determines the formula which most suits the district.

Police sources suggest the success of such "customizing" to what each community wants could revolutionize the RPNGC's approach to the training of police auxiliaries elsewhere in PNG.

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