ANZACS KEEP THE PACIFIC’S PEACE IN BOUGAINVILLE

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (April 25, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)---When it comes to peacekeeping, Australia and New Zealand are nearly at war with each other and the neighbors do not think much of them either, a new book claims.

Both nations Thursday celebrated the myth of "ANZAC," the heroic linking of both military forces to fight common enemies, but the book reviewing peacekeeping operations in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Bougainville presents a rather grimmer view.

In the eyes of Australians, their New Zealand counterparts were good for guitars and war dances but hopeless at soldiering. New Zealand fighters see Australians as culturally insensitive clods, while Fijian and Vanuatu solders see both Australian and New Zealand soldiers as uncouth hedonists.

Bougainville was the scene of a bitter civil war between 1988 and 1997 in which, primarily, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) fought the PNG Defense Force. It ended with a truce signed in New Zealand in October 1997 and the setting up of an unarmed Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) under New Zealand command and, in April 1998, a peace treaty and a Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) under Australian control.

"Without a Gun: Australians’ Experience Monitoring Peace in Bougainville, 1997-2001," edited by Monica Wehner and Donald Denoon (Australian National University), reviews the TMG/PMG story of a largely unnoticed but ultimately highly successful peacekeeping operation.

Australian military historian Colonel Bob Breen said the Australian Defense Force had been very cautions about being drawn into anything led by New Zealand, although Canberra’s diplomats took a different view, believing that the New Zealand initiative "would serve Australian national interests."

He says there was considerable friction between the two, as well as bringing in Fijians and ni-Vanuatu.

"Fijians came with a wealth of experience in peacekeeping in the Middle East but found the adjustment to being unarmed and working in monitoring teams, in two cases commanding monitoring teams, a significant challenge," he wrote.

"The Fijians and ni-Vanuatu found some Australian and New Zealand military personnel vulgar, hedonistic and lacking in cultural sensitivity."

Ni-Vanuatu found the long patrols with heavy loads difficult while Australia and New Zealand soldiers were condescending toward them.

He revealed that while TMG/PMG was unarmed, New Zealand deployed its special forces in Bougainville.

Breen makes the novel observation that Australia had no music culture to offer.

"Monitors from New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu brought their own music and singing. Music, dancing and singing have contributed enormously to breaking the ice."

Senior Canberra diplomat Rhys Puddicombe said there was a significant difference between Australia and New Zealand.

The domination of Maori in the New Zealand force was "a deliberate and very effective choice" and New Zealand’s army had a closer "family" feel.

"On the down side, their vehicle transport was fairly appalling and their communications limited. The Australian-led PMG was larger and much better equipped, but had less of a Bougainville-friendly feel."

Puddicombe said the New Zealand command considered Australians to be less trusted by Bougainvilleans and therefore more of a risk.

"While there was some truth in this, I think his approach served New Zealand’s interests as well, allowing New Zealand to be on the cutting edge and most visible in the peace process."

Academic Anthony Regan says several thousand people died as a result of the conflict, dismissing the 15,000 to 20,000 deaths often claimed, but says the impact on the 175,000 people incalculable.

BRA wanted United Nations involvement but PNG did not want to internationalize the conflict while Canberra and Wellington preferred the regional approach, which ultimately happened. Unarmed soldiers and civilians from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu took part.

Canberra and Wellington did not want to dominate: "Even the relatively small contributions from Fiji and Vanuatu had important symbolic value. In fact, the force was not a regional initiative, but the contributions of Fiji and Vanuatu proved to be more than symbolic."

Regan said New Zealand could not sustain the costs of TMG/PMG and tensions rose between the defense forces. Wellington resented Canberra’s domination while Australia was concerned at the rundown status of New Zealand’s forces. It was made worse when New Zealand had a change of leader and new Prime Minister Jenny Shipley wanted to bail out of Bougainville. Australian Prime Minister John Howard had to work the phones to change her mind, Regan says.

"Tensions were exacerbated by petty competitiveness between personnel of the two countries," Regan says.

New Zealanders thought Australians to be culturally insensitive; Australians believed New Zealanders less professional and Australian advisers wanted to re-assert what they saw as Australia’s primary responsibility for the south-west Pacific.

Launching the book, Australia’s army chief Lieutenant General Peter Cosgrove said few people realized how radically Bougainville had departed from the peacekeeping precedents, providing an exemplary model for the creative projection of Australian authority.

"While Australia’s political leaders clamored and jostled to be photographed in flak 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."

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz   Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org 

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