THE recent deployment of troops to Hela Province is reminiscent of the tragic events that unfolded nearly 30 years ago that sparked off a crisis and left more than 20,000 Papua New Guineans dead.
When Bougainvilleans decried unfair treatment of landowners, pollution and lack of government concern for the people’s future, the PNG government reacted by sending in police and then troops.
This brutal retaliation triggered one of the bloodiest periods in Papua New Guinea’s short history as an independent nation.
The so-called Bougainville crisis could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing massive destruction had the government exercised restraint.
Instead, the Bougainville crisis saw our blood shed for corporate interest in a bloody 10-year struggle.
We are still rebuilding, still recovering.
Will things ever return to normal? Who knows. We can only hope.
The fundamental lesson from that terrible period for Papua New Guinea should be that confrontation is avoided and peaceful options exhausted; that human considerations supersede corporate interest.
Diplomacy and traditional means of conflict resolution must be exhausted before any military decisions are even considered.
There are a variety of mediation platforms, such as having third party negotiators and international organisations broker a peaceful way forward, as eventually happened in Bougainville.
In the last few years, some 300 shipments of liquefied natural gas have left PNG shores with not a single toea returned to landowners. Of course there is bitterness and much concern as to whether they will see any benefit at all.
What will be the outcomes of the troop deployment?
Will the benefits justify the effort?
All it will take is one mistake resulting in death or injury and we could have another crisis on our hands.
And Hela has the grave potential to be far worse than Bougainville. Perhaps even foreign intervention would be on the cards.
I hope common sense prevails and we find peaceful resolutions and not the kind of use of force that may lead to regrettable events in the future.