MORE THAN GHOSTS HAUNT THE PACIFIC 60 YEARS ON

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By Michael J Field NZ/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 12, 2000 - Agence France-Presse/Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---He is angry and he is nearly naked and he has an ancient 50-caliber machine gun bullet mounted on bamboo to kill his rivals with -- if it doesn't kill him first.

About 1,200 miles to the northeast, lovers sit under a rusted "Singapore" gun planning their dreams while 1,800 miles away workers installing a sewer line have to dig gingerly in case the ground beneath them explodes.

These are places named on monuments around the world - Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan - but 60 years after World War II ended, the Pacific has more than just memories, thanks to the detritus of combat.

Some of it is fairly benign, like the hundreds of thousands of Coca-Cola bottles dumped in the waters off Vanuatu and now sold to tourists who forgot that the real thing once came in glass.

But they are still finding decaying mustard gas shells near Honiara, the ram shackled capital of the Solomons, which actually grew out of an American base.

The Pacific's war had begun in the early days of World War II when Japan seized the former German territories of the Marianas, Caroline and Marshall Islands and began fortifying them. Even today some of the fortifications remain, as immovable as any 100 Year War castle in Europe.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese swept into the South Pacific, taking parts of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Gilberts in the Central Pacific.

The Allies stopped them in a number of places including the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea and Guadalcanal in the Solomons. The counter-attack began at places including Bougainville in New Guinea and Tarawa in the Gilberts, now Kiribati.

Guadalcanal -- immortalized in many a movie including, most recently The Thin Red Line -- was crucial. The Japanese got to Guadalcanal and began building an airstrip, forcing the Americans to land on the island. The Americans won and renamed the airstrip, now Honiara's international airport, "Henderson Field" after a Battle of Midway hero. But while the Japanese and U.S. troops are long gone, war has stayed on these isolated islands and the relics of previous conflicts are not forgotten.

The indigenous people of Guadalcanal are fighting a civil war against people from the island of Malaita.

Their war, which has cost around 50 lives in the past year, is entirely dependent on American munitions left behind.

The Isatabu Freedom Fighters, who wear little else than kabilato or loin cloths, have been making their weapons using small caliber munitions.

"My father told me where the Americans hid them," one rebel said. The ammunition was still in good condition after more than 50 years in a riverbed. Sources say the rebels now have a supply of 50 caliber machine gun bullets and are building weapons based on them.

To the north on Bougainville, a 10-year insurgency against the Papua New Guinea government was made possible with left over armaments, often reconditioned to a near perfect state. Now that war is over the locals are talking of attracting tourists to the site of Admiral Isoroku Yamamato's plane, shot down in a U.S. ambush.

The Solomons was the scene of a massive naval battle in World War II and at least 50 carriers and battleships now lie in the deep waters of Ironbottom Sound. Solomons Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu believes they are leaking oil and killing the reefs.

"Our environment and the entire marine life is under serious threat," he said.

In New Zealand, authorities are worried a liner sunk by a German mine north of Auckland in 1940 is also leaking oil.

The war has left a mixed blessing. Major airports like Nadi and Nausori in Fiji, Faleolo in Samoa and Tontouta in New Caledonia were built quickly for the war effort.

Some of them are incongruous today, like the vast runway at Aitutaki, a sweet atoll in the Cooks. But in Tuvalu's capital, Funafuti, vast pits dug during the construction of an airport there are now fetid swamps and have destroyed the water table.

On Tarawa, the Japanese installed big field guns. For years many believed they were the guns the Japanese seized from Singapore -- but their serial numbers show Tokyo paid Vickers of Britain honest money for them.

On tiny Betio, bodies and ammunition still come to the surface. Off the coast of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, the wartime headquarters of the Japanese navy, sunken ships offer divers a treat.

Further north on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, unexploded ordinances are still killing people, almost 60 years after the horror battle there which saw 10,000 Japanese civilians kill themselves.

Now and again Japanese and American authorities return to the Pacific to gather the latest lot of bodies. The Japanese cremate them but the Americans take them home -- relics of a war still extracting its toll.

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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