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By Veronica Hatutasi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 10, 2000 - The Independent)---An honest assessment of the grassroots Bougainvilleans is their longing for peace, freedom and basic services such as health and education.

This is the view of Major Mark Koosache, the commanding officer in charge of the Tonu-based Peace Monitoring Group in Siwai, southwest Bougainville.

The PMG consists of about 300 peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu who have been deployed on the island since November 1997.

Seventeen are based in south Bougainville to oversee a large area from the northwest district up to Taiof and Mivo in Buin while the others are stationed in other areas throughout the island.

"An honest view of the grassroots Bougainvilleans is that people do not worry too much as long as there is peace, freedom and they receive basic services such as health and education," Major Koosache said when The Independent caught up with him and members of his contingent recently at the Monoitu market in Siwai.

Major Koosache, who is married with three children, is an infantry officer with the Sydney RTC in New South Wales.

He said that his four-month peacekeeping stint on Bougainville has also been a good learning experience communication wise and in understanding other peoples’ cultures.

Major Koosache said that while they continue their role of reporting, facilitating and monitoring the peace process, as stipulated under the Lincoln Agreement, they also assist Bougainvilleans with transportation and communication, particularly with regard to humanitarian cases such as emergencies and medivac.

He said they are limited by what they are allowed to do. However, they have conducted many life saving operations for Bougainvilleans who needed emergency treatment and also operations which the local hospitals could not handle immediately.

He said it makes them feel good to assist the local communities, not only in the peace process but also in other areas.

The previous week they had assisted a Siwai man by transporting him to their Combined Health Element at Loloho for X-rays and treatment, after a tree fell on him that resulted in broken ribs and bones.

He said they had saved many lives at their fully self-contained hospital, which has facilities for X-rays, surgery, dental work and other basic medical services.

His view of the peace process on Bougainville -- and especially in the Siwai and southwest areas -- was that good progress was being made.

"The peace and reconciliation efforts in the Bana area are more advanced than in Siwai, which is going quite well," Major Koosache said.

Bana is the neighboring area to Siwai and, along with the whole south and northwest areas, falls under Major Koosache and his group’s territories.

He said disarmament is an issue, which communities would like to see addressed more speedily.

He said mistrust and miscommunication, along with law and order problems related to the consumption of "jungle juice" or homebrew, were some of the hindrances to the peace process.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that members of the Australian contingent of the PMG have filmed a video on Bougainville in which they depicted obscene scenes.

The video reportedly was viewed in Australia and is said to be the peacekeepers’ version of the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras.

According to reports, a member of the public who saw the video expressed his disappointment, saying that this was not the image Australian soldiers should be projecting to countries that look to them for assistance and as superpowers in the region.

The Independent was unable to get comments from authorities on Bougainville and the Australian High Commission regarding the matter.

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

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