BY DOUG COOPER
SYDNEY, Australia - "With Australian and New Zealand troops on the ground in Bougainville since mid-November, a confrontation with independence fighters there is more and more inevitable," Bob Aiken told a Militant Labor Forum here December 5. Aiken is a member of the Communist League and the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union.
"What is unfolding now is a struggle over whether there will be an imperialist-imposed `peace' or peace determined by the people of Bougainville" after a nine-year war, he said. "And it's clear where Canberra and Wellington stand - they remain completely opposed to self-determination and are taking diplomatic, political, and military action to block it. They are trying to close down the political space won through the severe military defeats suffered by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) at the hands of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) in 1996, which contributed to the military mutiny and popular rebellion that shook PNG's capital Port Moresby and three other major towns in March 1997."
The pro-independence BRA and Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) hope to see a referendum on independence, but the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea have openly rejected such a possibility, Aiken said. Bougainvilleans' longstanding aspirations for independence were ignored in 1975, he explained, when the island was incorporated into the newly independent Papua New Guinea by the Australian colonial rulers, with the support of most politicians in Port Moresby.
Canberra and Wellington have packaged the initial stage of the intervention as "an unarmed `Truce Monitoring Group,' but this is a lie," Aiken stated. "In fact, while they may or may not be carrying weapons at this moment, the might of the Australian and New Zealand military forces are behind these `monitors.' "
The deployment is formally under New Zealand rather than Australian military command because the close direct links between the PNGDF and the Australian military would immediately expose the supposedly neutral operations. It involves some 200 Australian and New Zealand troops backed up by the HMNZS Canterbury, two other New Zealand ships, Hercules aircraft, and three Iroquois helicopters.
"Australia's defense minister, Ian McLachlan, stated that only the Australian armed forces have the logistic capability to sustain a long-term intervention," Aiken said. Two days after the forum, two supply ships - the HMAS Tobruk and the HMAS Success - were reported to have arrived from Australia.
"In all, thousands of Australian and New Zealand military personnel are already directly involved," Aiken explained. And to provide additional political cover to this imperialist intervention, a handful of troops from Fiji and Vanuatu have just arrived.
A truce between the PNGDF and the BRA has been in effect formally since October, Aiken said, but "there has been no serious fighting for many months," although some PNGDF troops were implicated in assassinations of former political allies of Port Moresby on Bougainville.
The creation of the Truce Monitoring Group was part of a formal agreement between the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, without the participation of the BRA and BIG. Following a further round of talks at the end of January 1998 between PNG government officials and BRA and BIG representatives, the intervention force is likely to be renamed a "peace-keeping" force, perhaps with a United Nations mandate.
"The big job today is to get out the facts. Despite the lack of publicity given to the operation, this is an intervention to reassert the domination of Australian and New Zealand imperialism," Aiken said. There have been no protest actions in Australia against the intervention to date. "Opposing intervention by Canberra and Wellington is not only in the interests of the Bougainvillean people but also in the interests of workers and farmers here," he concluded.
Meanwhile, in part to provide further political cover for
Australian interference in the affairs of the people of
Bougainville and elsewhere, as well as to promote Australian
nationalism, the conservative Liberal-National party coalition
government in Canberra enthusiastically signed the anti-land
mine treaty in Ottawa.
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