Please note this is JUST the Bougainville article – more coming soon!
Bouganville, with a population of only 160,000 has managed to close one of the biggest copper mines in the world. Despite having to fight the armed PNG army, they have held their ground for 8 years with antique guns & homemade guns made out of water piping and planks. “We now understand and have seen with our own eyes the destructive effects of the Copper mine operations on our land, our environment, our society and our culture. The mine will remain closed for the rest of our lives.”
– Declaration of Panguna Landowners, December 1992
Bougainville Island lies only 7km west from the nearest of the Solomon Islands. It’s population is estimated to be 160,000. Originally colonised by the Dutch, it then fell under German and, after World War 1, Australian control. Despite close cultural and geographical links with the Solomon Islands, it was governed as part of Papua New Guinea (320 miles to the west). When PNG was given `independence’ in 1975, Bougainville Island was placed under its flag.
In 1969 CRA, an Australian subsidiary of the British mining giant – Rio Tinto Zinc – forcibly established a copper mine on Bougainville. From the beginning the island’s people resisted the construction of the mine. News footage of Bouganvillean women, fighting with riot police over CRA survey pegs, received international coverage. In Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners – land is passed from `woman to woman’. To put it lightly, on this occasion it was clear their land was not being passed on in a traditional manner. The building of the mine saw 800 villagers landless and another 1,400 without fishing rights as land was seized and rainforest cleared. The subsistence life of gardening and fishing was destroyed. 220 hectares of rainforest was poisoned, felled, burned and bulldozed. After 20 years the mine had grown to a huge crater half a kilometre deep and nearly 7km in circumference, creating over a billion tonnes of waste. This was dumped into the Jaba River Valley creating a wall of waste hundreds of metres high, turning one of the islands biggest river systems bright blue.
In 1988, after two decades of ignored protests, petitions and compensation claims Bougainvilleans had had enough. A handful of islanders stole company explosives destroying electricity pylons, buildings and machinery. By using guerilla tactics they succeeded in closing the mine. Until the war broke out in 1988, the mine accounted for around 45% of all Papua New Guinea’s total export earnings. Without these earnings PNG is quickly going bust. Papua New Guinea (PNG), with the assistance of Australia, responded by sending in the military. Following this, Bougainville declared itself independent from the PNG and the Bougainvilleans formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) to defend their land and their environment from further exploitation.
“We wouldn’t stand idle and see our boys and innocent people being killed so we had to stand up and defend somehow, and it was then that we thought of forming a militant type organisation to contain what the security forces were doing to us.”
– BRA Spokesperson
The Bougainvilleans are getting no outside aid from any country, they are seriously outgunned, yet they have fought off PNG for eight years with antiques and homemade guns made out of water piping and planks. Springs from old mining machinery make reliable firing mechanisms. PNG transports its troops around in military trucks and helicopters. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army makes do with a small amount of company vehicles it took from the the mine, which it runs on coconut oil. A group of villagers working for about 20 hours can produce enough fuel to drive a 4WD vehicle 50 miles over rough terrain. Coconut Oil quite literally fuels the revolution. It not only powers `Radio Free Bougainville’ it also powers the lathes which the BRA use to turn the water pipes from the mine into home made gun barrles.
The Australian government claims that it does not support PNG’s war on the people of Bougainville. IT’S LYING. Australia has been funding, arming and directing the PNG military since the beginning. Australia provides Papua New Guinea with $32 million in military aid plus much more in untied aid. Almost half of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force has been trained in Australia since the beginning of the crisis. Austalian military advisors are on the island directing PNG army operations. Guns & ammunition used by the PNG army are manufactured and/or supplied by Australia.
Australian intelligence also advised Papua New Guinea to enforce a total goods and service blockade of the island, including medical supplies. No one is allowed on or off the island. Many of those trying to carry supplies in or refugees out have been killed by the PNG army who maintain a stranglehold around the island thanks to the Australian-provided patrol boats, speedboats, Iroquois helicopters and Nomad aircraft. When advising PNG to blockade, they anticipated that Bougainvilleans would succumb to the hardships in “3-4 weeks”. Six years after this projection Bougainvilleans are still under siege and are showing no signs of surrender.
PNG and Australia are committing genocide – the planned destruction of a people. Since the start of the war thanks to massacres and preventable diseases 10,000 Bougainvilleans have died – 7% of the population. In an attempt to isolate the Bougainvillean Revolutionary Army (BRA) from the civilian population, the PNG military has been demolishing villages and herding the villagers into `care centres’. `Care centres’ are the PNG’s preferred term for concentration camps.
“Bougainvilleans agree that environmental concerns cannot be disassociated from human concerns. ‘Environment’ encompasses both ecological and cultural rights; the two are too often sacrificed side by side. Government tactics such as forced evictions and population transfers are part and parcel of development that, in the name of economic growth, justify ecological destruction and the dispossession of peoples. The intent of the perpetrators of this evil blockade and seige is to create disunity on the islands through suffering and death, to torture women and children into submission, to steal back the mining resources at the expense of society and environment, to own the people and their island”
– Martin Miriori, Bougainville Interim Government.
Australia has many reasons for trying to destroy the Bougainville rebellion. The main reasons are its industrial and geopolitical interests. The Rio Tinto Zinc subsidiary (CRA) that owned the mine is Australian and the resistance on Bougainville could seriously weaken Australia’s hold on the region. As mentioned above, from 1918 to 1975 (with a brief interruption during the 2nd World War) Papua New Guinea was run under colonialism by Australia. PNG became an independent (sic) state in 1975 and was shaped by Australia as a block between it and the evolving regional superpower – Indonesia. PNG’s western sponsored power elites control of it its own population is very unstable. PNG is not welded together by a common language or culture, but is still mainly tribal. Many have declared their wish to, as a common saying goes, `do a Bougainville’. The PNG military has been greatly weakened by the loss of revenue from the mine, and if the BRA were successful it would almost definitely trigger similar struggles for self rule on the mainland. In such a situation the PNG military could simply collapse. Indonesia (which is already in forced occupation of neighbouring West Papua), would probably take advantaged of the power vacuum and invade PNG. This would seriously weaken Australian power in the region.
This message to Bougainvilleans can be attributed to the PNG Prime Minister and comes from a televised address to the nation (21.3.96). PNG is not interested in peace. When BRA reps turned up for peace talks in `95, they were fired on by PNG troops. As you read this the PNG military is launching its biggest ever offensive. Their orders are printed below. Reports are coming in of land mines being laid. Guess which country provided them? We need to tell the world about Australia’s secret war, it has taken great lengths to hide its level of involvement in Bougainville – we need to expose it. We have to target the offices of Australian interests in Britain, target the mining company RTZ. We need to raise money for medical aid. Against the odds Bougainvilleans have managed to hold their ground. It’s up to us to carry out the vital work of taking their struggle global. Let’s pull together and support Bougainville.
“Land is our life, land is our physical life – food and sustenance. Land is our social life, it is marriage; it is status; it is security; it is politics; in fact, it is our only world. When you take our land, you cut out the very heart of our existence.”
Victory to the BRA!
Victory to the People of Bougainville!
“Our fish in the river sometimes we would find them dead, floating. Some times even fish in the sea. Each time we reported this to the health officers. Nothing was ever done about it. Every time we complained they would say it’ll be alright. It’ll be alright; you will get the money, but money compared to what we lost is nothing.
In January 25th of 1990 my brother went to work as usual, the security forces went to him and told him not to say anything. He tried to ask them why they were taking him but he was bashed with the butt of the gun. He was beaten up, ripped off his clothes, thrown in the back of the car where ten of the soldiers were sitting and he was driven off. He was still screaming when they got their gun and they somehow maybe they hit the side of his mouth with their gun and two of his teeth fell off. Then he was shot in his heart once and another time in his side.
The PNG cannot win our hearts because we cannot forget our loved ones. We cannot accept it, they killed us in cold murder. We have never experienced things like this in our lives, the only place where I saw similar things was on TV.”
ORDER 2133 – Papua New Guinea Defence Force 21st May 1996
- “Search for the rebels and kill them.”
- “Any civilians who are suspected harbouring the BRA must be killed without question.”
- “Get the rebels out. Do not leave any of them, but wipe them out.”
- “Destroy all food – gardens, houses and any shelter found in the jungle, clean it up.”
- “Any civilian found to be an ordinary civilian is to be forced into care centres. If anyone is disorderly they must be beaten, but do not cause them death.”
For Further info on how we can help Bougainville, send an SAE to:The Bougainville Freedom Movement (UK)
c/o SDEF!, Prior House, Tilbury Place, Brighton, East Sussex