PNG’s population: a bigger threat than climate change

The PNG army in Bougainville - dirty damned rascals


Charlie AndrewsIN 1989, WHEN THE POLICE (the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary) was getting nowhere in solving the Bougainville crisis, except in visiting brutality on Bougainvilleans, their 'little army' - the PNG Defence Force – was called in.

To the disgrace of the State, they continuously harassed the ordinary people, but what the PNG government had invested enormous resources on was of no use against the native militants.

Then on 11 April 1989, the Post Courier newspaper carried an article entitled Soldiers to step up action.

The author, Sema Rea, wrote that Defence Minister Arnold Marsipal had announced that his Chief of Operations on Bougainville, Colonel Leo Nuia, had issued the order 'shoot to kill' four days after two of his soldiers had been killed.

Under this order, our homes were burned or looted, our women raped, civilians tortured or killed, domesticated animals killed, and gardens destroyed by the infiltrating security forces, even though it was denied by some.

In the video documentary, Sandline Crisis, PNGDF helicopter pilot Charlie Andrews [pictured above] says:

Militarily we cannot stop the war. I mean, it is against our brothers and sisters out there. So most of the soldiers, the service men, God blessed them with big hearts, they are not out there to destroy and kill others unnecessarily.

In late 1989, a cocoa farmer from Kupe was in his plot at Bakabori when a PNGDF patrol came by. He was shot, had his feet attached to a tether and, still alive, was dragged downhill to the Bovo River with some captives. There he was buried alive and he died.

My brother and I were soon to walk into these killers but an escaping family rescued us.

Weeks later, the PNGDF troops stormed the mountainous villages of Kupe, where I grew up as my second home.

Charlie Andrews and his 'bird'From our care centre, Kaino, we watched as two helicopters machine-gunned the mountain jungles and people, knowing that the militants at that point were all from Panguna.

The operation captured Louis Kepetu, who was taken by air to Panguna where he was tortured for months.

Back in my hamlet, Kavarongnau, in the Tumpusiong Valley of the Panguna District, the PNGDF arrived one day in 1989.

As the truck patrol was driving in, my extended family members escaped having gone through nightmares with the police.

My hamlet in those days was the only well-off homestead. It had family business operations and took its electrical supply from Bougainville Copper Limited.

As the Army entered, their first action was to help themselves to store goods and cash.

And then they torched our nine houses. My family stood just above a hillock and wept.

Later, the PNGDF shot dead a mentally retarded relative, Arenama, who was an elder brother of an old BCL friend and current member of the United Panguna Landowners Association, Michael Pariu, as they further tracked uphill seeking our escape routes.

Then we read newspaper headlines, such as in the Niugini Nius of 3 October 1989 ('Troops up in arms over politicians), and 16 October 1989 (Civilian shot death in Bougainville raid), and 27 October 1989 (Shooting puts peace in doubt) and 23 February 1989 (Soldiers in Panguna go looting).

And there is Charlie Andrews, telling Bougainvilleans that his army is good.

In 1991, according to Karl Claston's 1998 book, Bougainville 1988-98, the PNGDF massacred Bougainvilleans. The bodies were dumped at sea from Australian-donated gunships. Who flew the choppers? I wonder where he was to tell a lie to my people.

In 1993, another well-known mental retard of Arawa was shot dead. Such people ought to be protected.

Earlier, a BRA man from Topinang village in the Arawa area was shot in an ambush near the Bairima junction outside Arawa.

His body was tethered to the end of the rope from an armoured vehicle. This was driven to the Tunuru Box-cut with the body burning with the friction against the tar.

Throughout the crisis, the PNGDF had no clearly defined target to attack.

So mortars landed on innocent Bougainvilleans as in Buin where nine children were killed at Malabita in the late 1990s.

And also in Arawa in October 1992, a pregnant mother from Pavaire village went down to a shell fired from the Tunuru Catholic mission.

With these incidents, what did that PNGDF helicopter pilot mean when said, 'God blessed them with big hearts. They are not there to destroy or kill...?'

Who exactly are his 'brothers and sisters' in Bougainville? What clan does he belong to? What is the traditional name of a piece of land he owns?

This was a slap in the face from a military man whom we saw doing bad to us on our own land.

The PNGDF actions on Bougainville might have been appropriate if we Bougainvilleans were having a slum camp in PNG and harming New Guineans in their land.

Adopting foreign concepts like 'brother in the name of Christ' does nothing good for us Bougainvilleans who have long being treated by aliens as cheap commodities since the colonial era.

There must be retributive justice to a heart that has been broken and shattered.

In Bougainville, during the crisis, especially around 1996 when 'Operation High Speed' was on, the popular remark was tha, the PNGDF was 'Michael Somare's personal bodyguards deployed on a mission beyond their comprehension and capability'.

That’s why they were reckless on Bougainville.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Harry Baxter

Hello Barbara - You are absolutely correct when you say there never needed to be a war on Bougainville.

Many views can be substantiated but from my point of view the main fault lies with the BCL management at the time.

Unfortunately during my time there, 1969 through 1972, I witnessed the disgraceful attitude of 'colonialism'. Whilst I made so very many friends with Bougainvilleans on the other hand so many other expatriates viewed them derisively. Shameful.

I was at Loloho when the plantation was taken by force from the Rorovana people by the PNG riot police. This was done under the supervision of the District Commissioner who was present at the time.

The riot police were armed whereas the landowners were not. Again it stank of colonialism. So Francis Ona and his group declared independence and the mine closed.

It was viewed by BCL, Rio Tinto (by the way, at that time Queen Elizabeth II was the biggest shareholder), the PNG and Australian governments that the Bougainvilleans could easily be beaten into submission.

Shock horror oops, it wasn't that easy! In fact it could not be done and will never be done.

Again I say the fault lies squarely at the feet of the management of BCL at the time along with a very misguided colonialist attitude.

I foresee difficult times ahead. A prerequisite for granting independence by PM O'Neill is the handing in of all BRA and Mekamui weaponry. Does that mean that the PNGDF will also be disarmed at the same time? Of course not.

But, moving along, Bougainville deserves independence. Bougainvilleans are a strong, intelligent people with a culture far and above that of the West.

I intend to help and support them in every way I can to enter into a new era of peace and prosperity through education and health.

Kindest Regards to all.

Harry Baxter

People including Axel Sturm a leading shareholder of BCL believe me to be ex IRA. This is not the case. I have never been a member. Please remove this reference. Thanking you.

Found and fixed that, Harry. Best to you - KJ

Joshua Kono

Unbelievable. It is all so covered. We need the truth. Most citizens don't really know the extent and the extremes of the brutality on our fellow countrymen.

I had a school mate and a best friend who left school in grade nine in 1991 and went to sacrifice for his beloved Bougainville. I did not hear from him since.

His name is Seth Samson. Mixed parentage Kokmpri and Arawa. I hope he is still alive somewhere out there.

I was so emotional watching 'Mr Pip'. God help you erase your memories and give your a bright future.

Michael Dom

More please, bata Roka. I like it.

PNG, grow up, face your demons.

John Maau

When referring to his brothers and sisters, Captain Charlie Andrews was probably referring to his wife's family and clan whom he is very close with. She was born and raised in Buin, South Bouganville.

He assisted multitudes of Bougainvillian people during the crisis. The PNGDF is guilty of their actions, however not all of them were there on a mission to destroy.

Kristian Lasslett

Phil, we have put up a copy on our research repository:

All comments are welcome, naturally.

Peter Kranz

Phil - probably shouldn't say this, but you can get a trial account on EBSCO by pretending to be from a recognised Uni. A bit of creativity gets you the article.

Hell, outfits like this lock up all the interesting stuff anyway to make money. So much for academic freedom.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I tried the Australian National LIbrary's Trove as well as Jstor without success.

For a really edifying account of the crisis you could try Alexander Downer's "The Bougainville Crisis: An Australian Perspective". There are hundreds of remaindered copies around. It contains the full whitewash.

Peter Kranz

Phil, Kristian's full article is available on EBSCO (an academic journal hosting site).

Normally universities etc have to subscribe to this, but they have very reduced rates for institutions in developing countries.

UPNG library used to have a subscription, but I don't know whether this is still active. If so, PNG students could access it for free.

Worth checking with UNITECH, Goroka, PAU and DWU as well as the National Library.

Phil Fitzpatrick

This looks like a fascinating article that people in PNG like LFR should be able to read.

How can PNG people get a copy of the article to read without subscribing to BJC or paying $25 to read it for a day?

Kristian, any ideas? - KJ

Kristian Lasslett

Ross Wilkinson, sadly that is not the case (I wish it were), Australia was very far from a neutral observer to the crimes so vividly described here by Leonard.

I interviewed senior officials from the ADF, the Australian High Commission, DFAT and the Department of Defence, and a few clear themes emerged.

1. Australia placed considerable pressure on the PNG government to ratchet up its counter-insurgency operations during 1989-1991.

2. They were cogent of the brutal tactics being employed by the PNGDF (including extra-judicial killings, village burnings, rape, torture, etc).

3. They provided considerable direct assistance to the PNGDF - specifically for the Bougainville operation.

4. ADF officers stationed in the High Commission and in line positions within the PNGDF, took an active role in the operation after a startling BRA offensive in early 1990.

5. Senior Australian Ministers denied points 1-4 in parliament, and before the media. Unfortunately the historical record remains uncorrected.

These research findings were published in the British Journal of Criminology -

Leonard keep up the good work, it is always fascinating to read new perspectives on this sad episode in Bougainville's history.

Leonard Roka

This story is oven fresh from the bush of Bougainville and any Bougainvillean who faced the sort of situation like me will love it.

Leonard Roka

Thanks for getting out what that has being bothering you for all this time for the world to see. I know you are a free man or woman now.

Without LFR you won't put out that bonding pain. If you are cursing me, it's up to you for you and me will go down the same route.

Okay, let's see this, 'time is slowly healing' problems in Bougainville.

To this: a freshly wounded man runs into an aidpost. On the out-patient table is a reel of bandage. He points to it and calls the nurse to wrap his wound but the nurse runs into the next room for dentol and tells him that she have to get rid of every germs or dirt in the wound then later comes the bandage.

The Bougainville peace process was a bandage wrapped over massive dirt and that is why Bougainville is still facing problems.

Everything has to be told for the future generations to be responsible by being an informed citizens of the past actions that affected Bougainville.

I am a single monster trying to get my stories out. I am getting my stories to the PNG Attitude through a Bougainvillean persona and that is why I am subjective.

To be objective means I am a stranger who did not have more then 5 lucky escapes from the PNGDF guns since 1989.

I write what I have grew up with. I tell stories that I heard, saw, experienced first-hand and of course, what I think the approach should be to address the situation.

If many Bougainvilleans are happy with my PNG Attitude writings and has ask me to go as far as Buin from my home-base in Kieta to collect their tales for PNG Attitude, I am proud of my subjective tales.

You cannot ban me from PNG Attitude for it is the only means an unheard LFR is going strong.

Just write your side of the Bougainville story if I am a liar and a cheat.

Peter Kranz

A good news story for AusAID and Bougainville.

Fiona Hukula

Some of you may be interested to read the following article - 'An Analysis of Post Conflict Explanations of Indigenous Dissent Relating to the Bougainville Copper Mining Conflict, Papua New Guinea':

Thanks Fiona. We'll present a shortened version of this important paper in a future PNG Attitude - KJ

Tanya Zeriga-Alone

Sadly, the side referred to as the dirty and damned included someone very dear to me.

My father had no grudge against any Bouganvillean, he was a gentle man, just doing his job as a medic to the PNG army.

For that he endured 12 years as a paraplegic before God called him to eternal peace.

Twelve years of his life in a wheelchair. Did he deserve that? That was also 12 years of tears for the family. Did we deserve that?

There is always two sides of a story. You wept, we cried as well. You lost loved ones, we did too.

In retrospect, we are made to feel like we are enemies, but we are not. We are brothers.

The real enemy is the people that killed your waterways, left giant metal carcasses to rot on your land and cut down your mountains.

Ross Wilkinson

This is a tragic tale complicated by political, commercial and social issues.

If Leonard is to tell this story objectively, then he should ensure that his narrative is not spoilt by assumptions and biases. Yes, he is a Bougainvillean and has suffered through a terrible period but he must remain objective whilst making his points.

For example, the phrase "Australian-donated gunships" is not accurate. The Australian government donated four Iriquois helicopters to the PNGDF for general military use in 1989. They were not fitted with the hardware and weapons that would make them useable as gunships. The donation was also conditional by the Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, that they not be used as gunships.

If they were intended to be so used then the Australian Defence Force would have had them fitted with external mounted machinegun or cannon pods and internal machinegun and ammunition feed mounts.

However, subsequent to arrival in Port Moresby, someone authorised them to be armed with M60 machineguns which were suspended internally near each side door by rope slings. Hardly evidence of Australian military expertise or political interferrence in the crisis!

I last visited Bougainville in 1980 in my role with the PNG Electoral Commission and feel sorry that the situation developed the way it did.

Peter Aimos

Too right Barbara! Let's hope we do not have another Bougainville unless the likes of Roka rekindle the hatred and wounds that time is slowly healing.

In every conflict, there are always two sides to the story.

Leonard failed to even mention that the third major player during the crises were the resistance fighters. Is it not possible that some of those alleged attrocities he mentioned may have been committed by the resistance and blamed on the PNGDF troops instead.

I am not for one moment pleading the innocence of the soldiers...but there is always this 'maybe' factor!

And for Roka's information, the helicopter pilot he alluded to is indeed married to a woman from Buin and has significant business interest there even before the crisis.

Like many Bougainvillean bussinesses, he and his wife's business did suffer as a consequence but he still smiles today and loves his tambus like Roka.

To be fair, Leonard did write a critical article about the Bougainville Revolutionary Army resistance in an article on 23 September:

My understanding is that Leonard is telling the stories which need to be told, not trying to resurrect past ghosts - KJ

Shallum Tabea

Dear LFR, I’m very pleased with you because very little has been written about Bougainville crisis.

I believe many people don’t know the dark side of the PNGDF operations in Bougainville.

Good on you, stories concerning the Bougainville crisis are best when written by Bougainvilleans like you.

Peter Kranz

Two interesting videos posted on YouTube. One an induction video for new Australian staff working for BCL...

The other an interview with Harry Baxter, who actively supported BRA in the conflict -

You can't get too more polar opposites than these.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I don't know that you can reasonably forgive those sorts of things, Barbara, but I guess it is still possible to move forward even while remembering them.

To move forward an initial step must be for the perpetrators on both sides to acknowledge and apologise for the harm they caused.

You may have noticed the recent advertisements by Paul Hamm's publishers calling on the Japanese government to apologise for the atrocities they committed at Sandakan.

The Japanese have never really apologised for their brutality in WW2 and until they do the hatred will continue. Not least is the worry that if it happened again they would behave the same way.

A genuine apology would lay that fear to rest (not the Jones' versions of "I'm sorry I got caught out" either). The same applies for Bougainville.

Trying to get mining companies to understand and be sympathetic to the cultures of the people on whose land they extract resources is like banging your head against a brick wall.

99% of them are only interested in the bottom line, which is how to maximise their profits.

One thing I do know, however, is that whatever happened has to be documented and publicised. In that sense Leonard's articles are crucial, especially as he currently seems to be a lone voice.

Trevor Freestone.

Leonard I had many Bougainvillians as friends in Goroka. This was because two of my teaching staff were from Bougainville. The bougainvillians I knew were Doctors, Nurses, teachers and other public service people. They were making a tremendous contribution to the development of Papua New Guinea.

They certainly did not deserve to hear that the people of Bougainville were suddenly declared enemies of the state just because the Central Government did not recognise the fact that Bougainville was entitled to claim more of the income from their resources which they traditionally owned. The greedy central Government got it wrong and the people suffered.

I can understand why many people cannot forgive the atrocities that occurred they are moments in time that cannot be forgiven.

The Australian Government also showed little understanding of the situation and became involved in the most darkest days of PNG history.

I agree with everyone that such an incident must never happen again. Sadly the abuse of remote village's rights in regard to the resources which rightly belong to them continues today. Lets hope the new Government behaves in a much more responsible way.

Peter Kranz

I cannot begin to answer the questions raised by Leonard, or attempt to suggest how to heal the wounds of the people of Bougainville.

But Barbara is right. There must be an attempt to move forward from both sides to go beyond the terrible past.

We met two PNG friends at the local station the other day. One was from the Eastern Highlands, the other from Bougainville.

I commented that one looked like he was from Bougainville. He replied "You are right brother (and looking at his Goroka friend and my wife he said) "These two are redskins, but they are my friends".

Mrs Barbara Short

Leonard, I can see you have been through some terrible experiences. You write well and are starting to show a more reasoned and more balanced approach to your thinking. Good on you!

PNG is a developing country, which means your Defence Force is also "developing". It was certainly a Defence Force in training at the time of the Bougainville War.

It probably made some mistakes. But I feel the war was started by the people of Bougainville.

Maybe they were right in their protests but they were protesting against a mine that seemed to me, in 1977, to be running smoothly. (see my other article)

As we see today, the mining companies often do the wrong thing and they don't really understand the culture of the local people. Phil is trying to help them to understand the culture of the people on whose land the current mines are being developed.

But at the time of the Bougainville Crisis there were other ways that things could have been handled. There did not have to be a war.

There were plenty of well educated Bougainville men and women around in those days who could have sorted out the problems. I knew an ex-Keravat student from Bougainville who was living down here at that time. He is the type who should have been called up to help solve the problem.

But I imagine it was the hot-headed, short-tempered Bougainvilleans who took over. I remember having to handle some of them during my days as deputy-head at Keravat. I remember putting one on a plane back home. We had our own ideas why they had become so hot-headed, but I shall not mention them here.

When I was writing up the history of Kerevat NHS students I was told about one of my old Sepik students, Paul Panau, a Major in the PNGDF, who was killed when his platoon was ambushed on Kangu beach by BRA soldiers during the Bougainville war.

No doubt his family will still be grieving his loss. He was a lovely man. His family may still have a hatred for Bougainvillians but I hope not.

I hear you are studying in Madang. I'm sure there were probably men from Madang who were killed in the Bougainville war. Their relatives may have helped you in some way during your stay in Madang.

The only way forward is by "forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness", on both sides!

Let us hope that we never have another similar war to the Bougainville war caused by a row over a mine. Let's hope that people like Phil will continue in their efforts to get mining companies to work in with the local people.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)