LEONARD FONG ROKA
As they reached Kaino, dusk covered them and the child could not move on so they found a deserted house on the fringes of Kaino and spent the night under it.
At dawn the next morning, 4 July 1989, one of the Kupe men got up to pee and discovered the arrival of a convoy of yellow Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) vehicles that were used by the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) in its operations.
He woke his men and they disappeared into a nearby cocoa plantation, leaving behind the bales of rice and tinned fish they were supposed to camel home to Kupe.
As the men descended through the Kaino brae towards the Bovong River, Karebu, a Bakabori man married in Kupe, was making his way to Bakabori village to finalise the harvesting of his cocoa plot.
The PNGDF soldiers discovered the Kupe men’s belongings and, after knifing the bales of rice and cartons of tinned fish and scattering everything on the grass, began tracking them.
Since the village of Bakabori is visible from the Kaino side of the Bovong valley, the troops possibly concluded that the runaways belonged to that village.
Leaving Bakabori a little uphill, the Kupe men crossed the Bovong below Bakabori and headed upstream towards Kupe following the Kupe-Piruana trail. They must have passed Karebu without seeing him.
The PNGDF stormed Bakabori - a village of seven houses - while the people were preparing to go to their cocoa plots and feed their pigs.
In the cocoa trees surrounded Bakabori, the villagers were lined up and scolded: ‘Olgeta yupela pakin kirap na kam arasait’ (Everybody fuckin’ out of your houses).
The soldier paused and continued, ‘Yupla harim tu ah? Pakin kam arasait o bai yupela paia wantem haus ya’ (Are you listening? Fuck, come out or you will be torched with the houses).
The troops angrily lined up the villagers. Some were ordered to bite each other’s ears. Many were left bleeding and in tears.
Hellman Angkanu (pictured above) gathered his kids and wife on the lawn that was now filled with Papua New Guinean soldiers. The villagers were made to sit on the ground and were frisked as other soldiers infiltrated their houses.
In the pretext of searching, some women had their breasts and pubic areas molested before their husbands. Another couple who walked late into the assembly area was ordered by a soldier to strip and have sex - but he was scolded by his colleagues.
The soldiers found nothing lethal but collected knives, axes and metal fishing spears and began bundling them when a commotion flared and a bunch of soldiers rushed towards the southern edge of the village.
Karebu was calling from the fringes without coming out into the open: ‘Oh, where have all the humans of this village gone to?’ As Hellman saw it, he was calling while hooking in the trees the cocoa harvested the previous day.
Guns were fired towards the cocoa plot where Karebu was calling from. The villagers knew nothing of what happened to him and thought he might have had a lucky escape.
As the villagers watched, one of the soldiers who looked like the leader gave orders to his men and Hellman, his brother in law and a blood brother of Karebu were tied up with their hands behind their backs and forced into the cocoa plantation while most of the soldiers went towards where they had been shooting.
The PNGDF soldiers gun-butted, punched, kicked and swore at the tethered men as hustled them down a road leading to the Bovong River. Hellman had his nose, mouth and ears bleeding and swollen. He was crying as a child as the uniformed redskins scourged him at will alongside his two partners.
‘With those guns, they were men,’ he told me in Arawa, ‘but in their eyes I saw cowardice and without a gun I don’t know what a mess the three of us could do to these shameless people. I hate to see redskins today and if one happens to marry a relative of mind I will kill him or her straight away’.
Arriving at the banks of the Bovong around 10 o’clock, the PNGDF ordered the trio to sit. Hellman had so many things in mind: he was wondering if they were to be executed and their bodies thrown into the river. This made him cry openly with his two relatives following him.
As they sat, towards midday another party of soldiers arrived. Orders were given and the three men were blindfolded. The leaf of a young coconut palm tore Hellman’s blindfold and he could see through it.
He was shocked by what he saw. A couple of soldiers dragged the muscular body of Karebu, holding him by the legs and some supporting the hands. They laid him so close by that Hellman scanned him thoroughly and whispered what he saw to his companions.
Karebu’s body was mutilated with fresh bullet wounds. To Hellman, all the bullets the soldiers fired from their village had ended in this lone innocent cocoa farmer’s body. Flies hovered around the body and ants climbed to feed on the solidified blood.
In the afternoon, the Australia-donated PNGDF helicopters landed and picked them up. Hellman and his two friends were in a chopper with machine guns mounted on both sides. When it left the ground, it hovered for a while and another landed and collected the body of Karebu.
The trio were taken to Arawa police station where Hellman was kicked from the chopper before it touched the ground. He landed unconscious on the hard gravel but came to as sharp blows from the fists of angry redskin policemen rained on him. The police kicked and pushed the captives into a cell and locked them up.
Back in the village people began searching for Karebu. They tracked the trail the PNGDF had followed and, seeing heavy stains of blood on the ground, they knew he had been killed.
Early the next morning rumours reached Bakabori and Kupe that a new corpse was being brought to the hospital. Karebu’s widow and some relatives headed for Arawa to identify the body.
There in the morgue of Arawa General Hospital was a body mutilated beyond recognition. But, when they shook off the ice crystals gathered on the body, its build and clothing revealed it was Karebu.
With no crime to be prosecuted for, after a week Hellman and his two friends were released from the Arawa police cells.