Ex-Combatants Want Bougainville Ordnance Removal Stopped

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As stakeholders in Peace Agreement, group decries lack of consultation

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Oct. 15, 2014) – A group of Bougainville ex-combatants are calling on the Autonomous Bougainville Government to halt the international project to rid the west coast of unexploded ordnance left over from World War II.

Operation Render Safe is to be carried out by Australian and other international defence personnel at Torokina.

The ex-combatants, led by former Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader Sam Kauona, told the Post-Courier that the timing of the operation – during the demilitarised period – was of great concern to the ex-combatants and other Bougainvilleans.

They say the decision to allow the operation is the result of failure by the Autonomous Bougainville Government to consult with the ex-combatants, who are the key stakeholders of the Bougainville peace process.

But ABG President John Momis told this newspaper that "we cannot stop Operation Render Safe because it is being taken up under international protocol. They are going to clean up the place, the unexpoded ordinances."

The president said for development to take place in the area, it needs to be safe.

"This is a specialist job, it needs the army which we can’t afford," said Mr Momis.

Mr Kauona said it was not the right time for Render Safe as "these kind of military operations should have been addressed in proper leaders forums between the implicated parties to the Bougainville Peace Agreement before decision was made to sensitive issues like Torokina".

Mr Momis pointed out that consultation had already taken place with interested parties on the ground.

Operation Render Safe is an ongoing commitment by the government of Australia which had helped in removing live bombs in countries throughout the south west Pacific. The Australian Defence Force has already conducted Render Safe in Rabaul in 2011 and the Solomon Islands in 2013.

According to ADF, the people of Torokina have requested ADF through the ABG through the local member for Torokina. The Australian government has heard the request of the ABG and deployed. Mr Kaouna sent a message to the Government outlining his grievances.

"ABG maneuvers and conducts in dealing with sensitive issues like the Torokina are of great concern to the ex-combatants who are keepers of the Bougainville Peace Agreement," Mr Kauona said.

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