admin's picture

Radio Australia Asia Pacific PACIFIC BEAT April 8, 2002 Melbourne, Australia

Professor Donald Denoon was speaking with Pacific Beat’s Graeme Dobell.

Monitors have shown new ways of supporting reconciliation in war-torn Bougainville.

The passage of the Bougainville autonomy bill through the PNG Parliament last month is an important step in bringing peace to the troubled island. But the legislative changes are backed by ongoing efforts for peace and reconciliation on the ground.

Bougainville’s churches, women’s and community groups have made extensive efforts towards reconciliation and reconstruction. This process has been assisted by unarmed peace monitors – civilian and military – through the Truce Monitoring Group and the Peace Monitoring Group.

The Australian experience of peace monitoring has been documented in a new book: "Without a Gun: Australia’s Experience Monitoring Peace in Bougainville, 1997 to 2001." The book was launched in Canberra by the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Peter Cosgrove.

‘Without a Gun’ includes detailed overviews of the Bougainville crisis, which caused thousands of deaths between 1989 – 1998, and the peace process, which ended the bloody conflict. The book also contains moving personal testimony from Australian members of the monitoring deployment known as Operation Bel Isi.

One of the editors of the book, Professor Donald Denoon of the Australian National University, says that peacekeepers from Pacific Island countries played an important role in Bougainville - their presence sometimes giving rise to interesting situations.

There were people from the New Zealand army, predominantly Maori and often quite separatist minded. That was one source of tension.

There were very tough Fijians with a long experience of peacekeeping rather than peace monitoring in the Middle East and elsewhere. They were much the most experienced of the peace monitors.

There were ni-Vanuatu who were culturally much closer to Bougainvilleans than anybody else.

There were men and women within these peace monitoring groups, and the army is not particularly talented at dealing with gender equality in those situations.

There were a lot of tensions, which had to be dealt with face-to-face and defused within the peace monitoring groups, and they handled that very well. But then they had to deal with the fact that Bougainvilleans had only recently stopped killing each other, apart from trying to resist the Papua New Guinea Defense Force.

At every single moment, there was a possibility of violence breaking out again. There were many people in Bougainville still armed and there were family feuds and lineage feuds going on which had to be resolved while the peace monitors stood by and simply facilitated that.

That was a remarkably difficult task for people drawn more or less at random from the Australian public service and the Australian army. This is not the kind of job description of people in the Australian public service as a rule.

General Cosgrove picked these lines from the end of the book when he launched it, and I don’t think it’s possible to improve on that selection. He quoted as follows:

"Australians arrived unarmed, neither eluding to nor relying on superior coercive force. For the first time they came with no evident financial interest, a feature that puzzled the villagers. For the first time again they depended entirely on the goodwill of village people. For the first time they formed part of a multinational enterprise which was not merely an expression of Australian strategic or financial interests.

"Few monitors recognized how radically they departed from the precedents known to and expected among villagers. They may not have achieved the millennial condition of post-colonialism, but they have come close. And on the larger stage of regional relations they’ve provided an exemplary model for the creative projection of Australian authority. While Australia’s political leaders clamored and jostled to be photographed in flap-jackets alongside armed members of (the East Timor peace keeping force) INTERFET, I’m grateful to these peace monitors for presenting a very different image of Australia."

‘Without a Gun’ is published by Pandanus Press at the Australian National University.

For additional reports from Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia: Pacific Beat.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment