MIRIORI'S ARMS CLAIM BASELESS, SAYS AUSTRALIA, THAT EX-SANDLINE WEAPONRY

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SHIPPED TO BOUGAINVILLE

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 8, 2000 - The National)---The Australian government has denied claims by Bougainville rebels that it is collaborating with the PNG government by releasing Sandline military hardware to PNG Defense Force troops on Bougainville.

Australian High Commissioner Nick Warner said yesterday that the allegations contained in the rebels' media release have "absolutely no basis."

The allegations are a load of clobbers," he said.

Mr. Warner was responding to allegations by rebel spokesman Martin Miriori, who operates out of the Netherlands, that PNG, Australia and the Solomon Islands collaborated to release Sandline military hardware to PNGDF troops in Bougainville.

In the latest development, Mr. Miriori said reliable sources have revealed that the ex-Sandline military hardware, which was purchased by the former Chan/Haiveta government and later impounded by the Australian authorities and stored in a military air base in the Northern Territory more than three years ago amidst the Sandline crisis, was released and shipped to Bougainville through Honiara about two weeks ago.

He said sources confirmed that supplies of high-powered firearms were loaded ex-Brisbane and arrived in Honiara on August 24 on the vessel identified as the MV Captaine Fearn Voyage No. 33 in seven large sea containers addressed to the Australian Department of Defense in Honiara (with no transit address to Bougainville or PNG).

Mr. Miriori claimed the vessel berthed at Honiara wharf on August 25 before the containers were transferred/reloaded to another Australian chartered ship, identified as the MV Neptune Gale, at Honiara wharf on August 26, which sailed for Bougainville.

He said an eyewitness revealed that the vessel arrived in Loloho at 5:30 p.m. on August 28.

Mr. Miriori said the same witness confirmed that the containers were actually seen unloaded by PNGDF personnel at Loloho Port at 8:00 a.m. on August 29.

The rebel leader claimed that Foreign Affairs Minister Sir John Kaputin knew of and authorized the clearance for the shipment when he met former PNGDF commander Colonel Leo Nuia recently in Honiara under the pretext of consulting with the Solomons government on the crisis there.

"If the report is true, then the rebels would like to question these three regional countries about their sincerity to support the resolution of the Bougainville conflict through peaceful means," Mr. Miriori said.

The PNG government did not comment immediately on the allegations.

A government source said this is a matter of national security, which would be referred to relevant government agencies like the National Intelligence Organization (NIO), National Advisory Security Committee (NISC), and the Office of Bougainville Peace and Restoration for investigation.

Meanwhile, AAP quoted Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as saying that Australian peace monitors are one step closer to coming home after a breakthrough in peace talks for the island of Bougainville.

An agreement at Australian-funded talks in the Papua New Guinean center of Rabaul this week had brought the talks into an important period, he said.

Mr. Downer also reiterated that the Australian peace-monitoring contingent on Bougainville was there only on a temporary basis.

"We are gradually downsizing the peace monitoring group. They've been reduced in size over the last few weeks," he said.

"We are looking next year at reducing the size of the peace monitoring group still further and frankly we hope that the peace process can fairly quickly move to a point where it's no longer needed."

He congratulated negotiators Bougainville Affairs Minister Sir Michael Somare, Bougainville Governor John Momis and Bougainville Provincial Council president Joseph Kabui for their work.

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

 

BOUGAINVILLE PEACE FORCE WOUND BACK

By Laura Tingle

CANBERRA, Australia (September 8, 2000 - Sydney Morning Herald)---Australia's peace monitoring force on Bougainville is being wound back, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Downer, confirmed yesterday as he welcomed a breakthrough in peace talks between Bougainvillean leaders and the Papua New Guinea government.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the number of Australians on Bougainville was being cut back from a peak of 203 in May 1998 - in a total force of 253 - to 150 of a total force of 170 by next month.

Mr. Downer said the peace process was going through "rather an important period" in Australian-funded talks in Rabaul between the PNG government and Bougainvillean leaders.

The meeting on Wednesday saw both sides reach an understanding "where they could take the peace process forward and we very much welcome this," Mr. Downer said.

"We're anxious that peace continues. We have a peace monitoring group in Bougainville and there are a lot of Australians involved there.

"All parties are committed to continuing negotiations and," Mr. Downer said, "it provides a way through on the two key issues of autonomy for the province of Bougainville, the referendum on its future, and the great importance of a competent and complete plan for weapons disposal."

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people died in the war fought between the PNG Defense Force and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Meantime, Associated Press reports: Using a law allowing foreign nationals to bring lawsuits in the United States, Bougainville islanders have sued a London-based mining concern citing environmental degradation and human rights violations.

The lawsuit filed yesterday names Rio Tinto, one of the world's largest mining companies. Because of the time zone difference, mining officials in London could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that residents of Bougainville were and continue to be exposed to toxins from Rio Tinto's copper mine. The mining company destroyed villages as well as razed rain forests and polluted rivers, causing health problems for islanders, the lawsuit alleges.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

Provided by Vikki John ( VIKKI@law.uts.edu.au

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