The Guardian September 13, 2000

Australia suspected of secret release of impounded weapons

The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) intelligence network has 
received information that military hardware which was purchased by the 
Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government for use by Sandline mercenaries in the 
war against Bougainville and impounded by Australian authorities more than 
three years ago, has been secretly released and trans-shipped to 
Bougainville through the Solomon Islands.

The BRA says that its sources, which it believes to be reliable, have 
confirmed that supplies of high powered fire arms were transported from 
Brisbane to Honiara on August 24 on the MV Captaine Fearn in seven 
large containers addressed to the Aust. Dept. of Defence/Honiara.

In Honiara, on August 26, the containers were then transferred to an 
Australian chartered ship identified as MV Neptune Gale, which 
sailed to Bougainville where it was unloaded by PNG Defence Force 

The BRA is demanding an investigation and some honest answers from the 
countries involved, as to How, When, Why and Who was responsible, 
particularly at such a crucial time on the eve of important political 
negotiations on the future of Bougainville.

The BRA is extremely concerned that any such shipment of arms may be linked 
to a recent military build-up of the PNG Defence Forces on Bougainville.

PNG is insisting that its Defence Forces have a constitutional role on 
Bougainville, which Bougainville totally opposes.

Under the Lincoln Agreement signed on January 1, 1998, both the PNG and 
Bougainville forces agreed to dispose of their arms and that the PNG Forces 
withdraw from the island.

The BRA has put proposals for weapons disposal before the United Nations 
Observer Mission on Bougainville but PNG has still made no proposals and it 
appears to be building up, not withdrawing, its forces.

Despite media hype suggesting a big breakthrough in the negotiations 
between the PNG and Bougainville which took place in Rabaul (PNG) last 
week, nothing of fundamental significance has been achieved. The situation 
remains serious.

The PNG Government is still ducking and stalling on a referendum on the key 
political question of independence. Without a satisfactory resolution of 
this question, there cannot be any certainty of lasting peace.

Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta has raised the question of altering PNG's 
constitution to permit the holding of referenda. At present there is no 
such provision. And if there was, would it mean that the whole of PNG would 
vote on Bougainville's future?

The Prime Minister is proposing a series of referenda over a number of 
years  each having to get through Cabinet and Parliament  none of them 
a certainty. 

The Bougainville parties believe that only one referendum is necessary to 
resolve the situation  that is on the question of independence.

The PNG Government appears to favour some form of provincial autonomy for 
Bougainville. Under recent reforms the powers of PNG's provincial 
governments have been reduced to those equivalent to a local council.

The only form of autonomy acceptable to the Bougainvilleans is one of the 
highest form, with powers and functions just short of independence, 
inextricably tied to a referendum on independence.

Negotiations continue. The Bougainville negotiating team is jointly led by 
the President of the Bougainville People's Congress Joseph Kabui and the 
so-called interim Governor of Bougainville John Momis.

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