Military-Civil Relations in the Independent State

From a very early stage, the Australian officers responsible for the training of Papua New Guinean soldiers were anxious to instil in their protégés the idea of the subservience of the military to the civil authority, and to ensure that relations between the military and politicians were cordial.

The achievement of cordial civil-military relations should have been rendered easier in post-independence Papua New Guinea by the fact that, given the nature of pre-colonial Papua New Guinean societies (for the most part small and non-hierarchical) and the recency of effective colonial administration in much of the country, defence force personnel and the emerging nationalist politicians and civil servants came from similar village backgrounds, and in the case of the better-educated had been to the same government-run schools in much the same age cohort. The PNGDF’s first Papua New Guinean commander, Ted Diro, for example, came from a village in the Rigo district, where his father had been a plantation labourer and a carrier for the Allied troops during World War II. In common with the other two young men selected for early officer training, and with many of the leading politicians and civil servants of the late 1960s and 1970s, Diro had attended the government high school at Sogeri. But perhaps because of the military ethos inherited from the colonial period, and the nature of the military training, relations between senior military officers on the one hand, and politicians and public servants on the other, were not particularly close; indeed Sinclair (1992:297) describes relations in the early 1970s as ‘frosty’ (also see O’Neill 1971; Sundhaussen 1973b). Politicians tended to see the military as elitist and a possible threat to civilian rule, and the military had misgivings about politicians who questioned the future role of the defence force and suggested that it might be too big.

Despite this degree of separation of military and civilian circles, within the first few years of independence there were suggestions that the higher echelons of the military were being politicised.

Diro and Lowa had been rivals for the top position during their early military careers and on the eve of independence, as it became clear that Diro was the likely choice for commander, Lowa resigned and joined Prime Minister Somare’s office. He subsequently contested the national elections in 1977 as a Pangu candidate, was elected to a seat in Port Moresby, and became minister for Police in the second Somare government. In the following months there were rumours that within the Somare government there were moves to oust both General Diro and the police commissioner, Pious Kerepia, both of whom were felt to be ‘politically unreliable’. Lowa was said to be prominent in these moves. In November, following a series of disputes among senior police officers, Kerepia’s tenure was terminated, though he protested, alleging political interference. The same month a challenge to Lowa’s residential eligibility was upheld and he lost his parliamen-tary seat. (Lowa later became national organiser of the Melanesian Alliance party and was re-elected to parliament in 1987.)

Meanwhile, tensions in the relations between members of the government and senior PNGDF officers came to a head in what was termed ‘the Diro affair’. During 1977 Diro had held discussions with a leader of the West Papuan separatist movement, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM). Although Diro claimed that the Defence minister had been fully briefed on the talks, there was a feeling in cabinet that Diro had exceeded his authority and in late September it was announced that he would be officially reprimanded. The reprimand came a week later. By this time Diro had sought and received a commitment of support from senior officers, and there were rumours in Port Moresby of a possible coup (see SMH 6 October 1977; Hegarty 1978:402). At the time Diro told cabinet:

… I have now been able to assess who my friends are and who aren’t … Mr Prime Minister, I want you to know that the force is becoming sick to death of being made a political football by certain politicians and ex-politicians (quoted, SMH 6 October 1977).

Though one commentator described the incident at the time as ‘the most serious threat to the authority of the government since independence’ (Hegarty 1978:402), it appeared to blow over fairly quietly. Six years later, however, an anonymous former PNGDF officer[25] told an Australian Broadcasting Commission correspondent[26] that had Diro been sacked in 1977 PNGDF officers would have staged an already-rehearsed operation, codenamed ‘Electric Shock’, in which the prime minister and certain other politicians and public servants would have been taken hostage. The former officer claimed that PNGDF officers had been in contact with the Indonesian government during this period; indeed one of their major concerns had been the Papua New Guinea government’s poor handling of the border situation. Diro’s role in all this was unclear and the story was denied in some quarters (see Times of Papua New Guinea 26 August, 15 September, 7 October 1983); certainly it may have been embellished by 1983. But it served as a reminder that military intervention was not an impossibility.

Four years after the 1977 incident, Diro announced that he was resigning from the PNGDF to contest the 1982 national elections. He stood as leader of a (mostly Papuan) PNG Independent Group and was elected. In the process of coalition formation the ambitious Diro was at one stage tipped as possible prime minister, but he ended up in opposition, briefly accepting leadership of the National Party, and becoming minister for Forests in 1985 when a vote of no confidence brought a change of government.

Diro was not the only former PNGDF officer to contest the 1982 elections: in Manus, James Pokasui, who had been transferred to Manus the previous year as adjutant of the Maritime Element, stood as an Independent Group candidate and was initially declared winner, though the result was subsequently overturned by the Court of Disputed Returns;[27] in Wewak, former PNGDF major Michael Malenki, who had left the PNGDF in 1977 to become electoral secretary to Prime Minister Somare but had fallen out with Somare and became national secretary of the Melanesian Alliance, stood unsuccessfully (he was later elected to the East Sepik Provincial Assembly).

With Diro’s resignation from the PNGDF it was generally expected that Colonel Ken Noga, who had been the third most senior Papua New Guinean officer after Diro and Lowa, would succeed him. Instead, the position was given to Colonel Gago Mamae. In 1980 a split in the ruling Pangu-led coalition and a subsequent vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Somare had brought a new coalition government to power, headed by Somare’s former deputy prime minister, People’s Progress Party (PPP) leader Sir Julius Chan. In 1977 Noga had resigned from the PNGDF to contest the national elections as a pro-Pangu candidate, having rejoined the force when he failed to be elected.[28] Some suggested that Mamae had been appointed over Noga in 1981 for political reasons. The suggestion that political considerations had entered into the selection of the PNGDF command was reinforced in 1983 when, having been reelected to office in the national election of the previous year, the Somare government replaced Mamae with Noga as commander of the PNGDF. A newspaper editorial at the time asked: ‘Must we continue to entertain political appointments in the public service …?’ (Times of PNG 26 August 1983). Mamae, after serving for a while as military attaché in Australia, resigned and became executive officer in Chan’s PPP office (standing unsuccessfully as a PPP candidate in the 1987 national elections).

The politicisation of the senior PNGDF appointment was demonstrated even more blatantly three years later, when another vote of no confidence again removed a Somare-led coalition and brought to office a government headed by Paias Wingti and Julius Chan. Noga was himself removed and replaced by Colonel Tony Huai. Huai had been in consideration for the top position in 1982. In 1984 he resigned, criticising the government’s handling of the PNGDF. He initially joined Mamae in Chan’s PPP office and indicated his intention of standing for parliament in 1987. At the time of his appointment Huai was a security officer with Air Niugini and the appointment of a commander from outside the PNGDF was reportedly opposed by the Defence Department and resented by some senior officers. Opposition leader Somare described it, not without irony, as a ‘dangerous precedent’ (Post-Courier 3 December 1985).

Huai proved to be a controversial figure as PNGDF commander. Early in 1986, on his return from a visit to Indonesia, Huai told a press conference that he would closely cooperate with Indonesian army forces commander, General Benny Murdani, to stamp out the OPM. His statement attracted criticism, notably from prominent lawyer (later Justice minister) Bernard Narokobi, who said that Huai had no authority to make public statements about matters of defence policy, and called for his dismissal. Huai resigned in late 1986 but was reinstated. The following year Huai again attracted public attention when it was reported that, having been opposed to the defence provisions of the Joint Declaration of Principles then being negotiated between Papua New Guinea and Australia, on the grounds that a reference to possible ‘attack from an external source’ could be misread by Indonesia and create unnecessary tension, Huai had made unauthorised visits to Indonesia and had leaked details of the progress of discussions to General Murdani (see Times of PNG 4-10 February 1988). He was also said to have accepted gifts of uniforms and furniture from the Indonesian army chief. According to a Times of PNG report (24 December 1987-7 January 1988), Huai’s close relations with Murdani had nearly resulted in a mutiny by senior officers and NCOs. Partly as a result of this, but also, according to Defence Minister Pokasui, because Huai had allowed infighting and political lobbying among senior officers, Huai was dismissed in late 1987. He was replaced by Colonel Rochus Lokinap. Lokinap was the first non-Papuan commander of the PNGDF, coincidentally coming from a village in Sir Julius Chan’s New Ireland electorate.

By this time, too, Diro’s political fortunes had begun to turn. Having been reelected in 1987 Diro managed to swing the entire bloc of members from Papuan electorates into a coalition with Paias Wingti, thus delivering government to Wingti when it looked as though a Pangu-led coalition would be returned to power. He became deputy prime minister in the new government. However, an enquiry set up by Wingti in 1987 to investigate allegations of corruption in the forestry industry had accused Diro of involvement in a number of illicit transactions and recommended prosecution. Further, in the process of investigation it was revealed that Diro had received from Indonesia’s General Murdani some $US139400, ostensibly as a contribution to his 1987 election campaign expenses. This ‘contribution’, which had not been declared, was in defiance of a provision of the Papua New Guinea constitution which states that an organic law will be passed to prevent candidates or parties accepting contributions from foreigners (though in fact the organic law had never been passed).

Charged with perjury and facing possible prosecution, and with calls for his resignation from parliament, Diro resigned from cabinet. In subsequent statements to the press he said:

… the events of the past couple of months have had implications leading to rumours of disobedience in the disciplined forces … I have been one of the experts on military coups through the world [and] … the ingredients are here for a coup … I do not want to be blamed when that arises. (Post-Courier 9, 16 November 1987; Times of PNG 19-25 November 1987).

In the wake of the military coups in Fiji in 1987 – the first in the island Pacific and generally unexpected – such comments were not dismissed lightly. With rumours circulating in Port Moresby about an impending coup (Saffu 1988:259-60), three senior colonels (Kwago Guria, Lima Dotaona and Robert Dademo), all of them Papuans, were removed, although the possible links between the talk of coups and the government’s actions were never made clear. This action was bitterly criticised within the Papuan community, especially from within the then-recently-formed People’s Action Party (PAP), a predominantly Papuan group of which Diro was parliamentary leader. Following a change of government in 1988, the three were reinstated (though Guria chose not to return).

Shortly after resigning from cabinet, Diro shifted the parliamentary allegiance of his bloc and in so doing brought about a change of government. He became minister of state in the new (Namaliu) government and having been acquitted of the perjury charges subsequently became deputy prime minister. But in 1991 he was found guilty by the Leadership Tribunal of eighty-one counts of misconduct and was forced to resign from parliament. This threatened to precipitate a constitutional crisis when the governor-general, Sir Serei Eri, formerly president of Diro’s PAP, refused to sign the dismissal papers and attempted to reinstate Diro as deputy prime minister. Eventually both Diro and Eri resigned. Ironically, remembering the events of 1977, the PNGDF was placed on alert at the time ‘in case of violence between ethnic groups’ (Times of PNG 3 October 1991).

The following year, after another, Wingti-led, coalition had come to office fol-lowing national elections, there was a further major reshuffle within the PNGDF. In November 1992 Lokinap’s extended term as commander came to an end; criticised for his handling of the Bougainville situation, he was not reappointed. In his place Colonel Robert Dademo, one of the Force’s longest-serving officers (and one of the three Papuan officers dismissed under a previous Wingti government) was appointed as Brigadier General. Dademo was generally regarded as a sound choice, though some claimed that his appointment was ‘political’.

Soon after his appointment, a leaked document claimed that Dademo had recommended that five senior officers be replaced, but had been overrruled by Defence Minister Tohian. Subsequently, while Tohian was in Australia, the NEC approved the transfer of the five officers (one was posted to Indonesia, one to Australia, one to New Zealand, and two to other government departments); four officers were promoted to colonel to fill vacant positions. A Times of Papua New Guinea report (30 December 1992) said the moves ‘strengthen the commander’s position enormously and remove a number of his former rivals from key jobs in the force’.

In early 1994 Dademo reached retirement age and, in the absence of Prime Minister Wingti, Chan as acting prime minister announced the appointment, as acting commander, of Colonel Lima Dotaona. On his return a day later, however, Wingti overruled his deputy prime minister and Defence minister; the Defence Retirement Regulations were amended to raise the retirement age and Dademo’s appointment was, controversially, extended.

With the politicisation of senior levels of the PNGDF and increasing pressures, budgetary and operational, upon the military, came also suggestions of declining morale and deteriorating discipline in the force.

As early as 1985 the standard of discipline in the PNGDF was said to be ‘below that required’ (Defence Report 1984-85: 39, 44) and a concentrated effort was made ‘to purge the force of soldiers whose service was considered unsatisfactory’; 190 ‘other ranks’ were discharged. The same year some forty Air Transport Squadron groundcrew were accused of ‘mutiny’ when they staged a strike over pay and conditions.

More serious allegations of undisciplined behaviour by the security forces arose during Operation LOMET in the highlands in 1988. Foreshadowing later developments on Bougainville, there were widespread reports of village houses, stores and community centres being burned, of pigs and cassowaries being shot, of looting, and of village people being beaten and raped (Draft Hansard 11 November 1988 pp.10-11, 18 November 1988 pp.16-17; Post-Courier 20 October 1988, 15, 17, 18 November 1988). Much of the blame was attributed to the Police Mobile Squad, which already in the mid 1970s had acquired a bad reputation in the highlands, but PNGDF personnel were also accused of offences and there were calls for its withdrawal from such operations. (Nevertheless, four years later Standish [personal communication 1992] reported similar abusive behaviour by police and PNGDF soldiers in the highlands during the 1992 elections.)

In 1988-89 problems of discipline were manifested on a larger scale in open challenges to the government’s authority by elements of the military. In June 1988, the minister for Civil Aviation announced a decision to close Lae airport (it had been decided, in accordance with a recommendation of the 1983 Defence review, to relocate the airport some 40 kilometres outside Lae at an old wartime strip at Nadzab). The PNGDF, whose air element had opposed the move, responded by flying personnel from Port Moresby to Lae to ‘secure the airport’ against Civil Aviation authorities. Lokinap subsequently announced that all Defence Force planes would be grounded. Several days later, having been severely reprimanded by Prime Minister Wingti, Brigadier Lokinap apologised for the PNGDF’s actions and assured the prime minister and the people of Papua New Guinea of the PNGDF’s undivided loyalty. Nevertheless the Defence Report 1988 (pp.5, 13) listed amongst the year’s military operations: ‘Operation Albatross’. This operation secured the Lae City airfield and prevented its destruction by elements of the Department of Lands and Department of Civil Aviation’.

Then in early 1989, angered at not having received expected pay increases (the first since independence), some 300-400 soldiers marched on the National Parliament, where windows were smashed, vehicles overturned, and civilians and politicians abused. There was also a smaller demonstration by PNGDF personnel in Wewak. The government promptly suspended the commander, chief of staff, and secretary for Defence, and set up a Defence General Board of Inquiry to investigate the incident. But the government quickly implemented pay increases, and while the Board of Inquiry noted a serious decline in discipline (‘There is an apparent inability and or reluctance by commands at all levels to impose discipline’ – Report p.49) and evidence of some misuse of funds and equipment, its report was largely devoted to discussing problems of morale and recommending improvements in conditions of service within the PNGDF. While the board’s analysis may have been accurate, it did little to reassure the public or political leaders.

Further incidents during the early 1990s (including a strike by maritime and air element personnel in 1994) suggested that, notwithstanding action taken after the 1989 review, problems of discipline remained (see May 1993:55-56).

Overarching all these incidents, however, from 1988 was the much larger issue of the performance of the security forces on Bougainville.

In 1988, simmering discontent within the landowner group around Papua New Guinea’s immense gold and copper mine on Bougainville erupted into a major confrontation.[29] Mine installations were subjected to a series of arson and sabotage attacks, during which pylons carrying power lines to the mine and town at Panguna were blown up, and workers attempting to repair lines were threatened by armed men. (Among the leadership of the militant landowner group was a former PNGDF officer trained in the use of explosives.) Late in 1988 the mine operator, Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), temporarily closed the mine and a government committee attempted to negotiate a settlement with the dissident group. But following further acts of sabotage against BCL installations and government property, police reinforcements were called in and a curfew was imposed in the mine area. Shortly after this riots broke out in the nearby town of Arawa after a series of incidents, not directly related to the mine dispute, in which three people were killed. With tension rising and longstanding separatist sentiments regaining strength, the curfew was reimposed and PNGDF troops (whose call-out had been authorised in December 1988) were brought in to assist police restore law and order. By March 1989 there were approximately 600 police and military personnel on Bougainville, under the direction of a joint planning committee headed by the provincial administrative secretary. Within weeks of its arrival the PNGDF had suffered its first casualties when a PNGDF patrol was ambushed, and it was reported that the PNGDF had launched a ‘full-scale military operation’ against ‘the rebels’. Shortly after, dissident leader Francis Ona announced a revised set of demands against the mining company and the government, which, apart from massive financial compensation, included a call for the withdrawal of all security forces. ‘We are not part of your country any more,’ he told the government, ‘We belong to the Republic of Bougainville’ (Niugini Nius 12 April 1989). Premier Joseph Kabui described the situation as serious: the issue was no longer merely about land, he said, but also involved the question of secession (Post-Courier 23 May 1989).

After further attacks on the mine had forced its closure, the government announced tighter security measures, including wider powers for the police and army under an amended Defence (Aid to Civil Power) Regulation. However, the government wanted to avoid at all costs a military operation, Prime Minister Namaliu said, and was not entertaining the possibility of military action ‘at this point’ (Canberra Times 26, 27 May 1989). But when talks failed, Namaliu ordered an all-out attack on the rebels, who were now calling themselves the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA).

The government’s repeated attempts to negotiate with Ona were seen by some, both within and outside the security forces, as a sign of weakness on the part of the government. Police Commissioner Paul Tohian was reported to have complained of ‘political interference with essential police work and political indecision’, and to have threatened to defy government directives in his attempts to capture Francis Ona. When, in response, prominent Bougainvillean politician and minister for Provincial Affairs, Fr John Momis, criticised Tohian and threatened to move for his dismissal, a group of about one hundred angry policemen marched on Momis’s home and warned him against sacking the commissioner. Shortly after this, the acting PNGDF chief of staff, Colonel Leo Nuia, publicly rebuked the Defence minister, saying he ‘should refrain from making wild statements on matters affecting the operations of the soldiers and police’ on Bougainville (Niugini Nius 12 April 1989). The acting commander and the chief of PNGDF operations on Bougainville also publicly criticised the government’s handling of the crisis. Within the PNGDF and RPNGC there were many who felt that they could ‘clean up’ the situation on Bougainville if only they were not held back by politicians. As against this, there is little doubt that heavy-handed actions by the security forces – primarily, it seems, the police mobile squad, but also the PNGDF – did much to alienate villages and catalyse demands for secession.

In June 1989 the government declared a state of emergency on Bougainville. Police Commissioner Tohian was made controller of the state of emergency with the PNGDF commander on Bougainville his deputy. Diro, whose decision to cross the floor of parliament had resulted in a change of government, became minister of state and chairman of the parliamentary National Emergency Committee, and later, for a while, deputy prime minister. Diro’s comparatively ‘hard line’ approach to the Bougainville situation was indicated in a statement he made in parliament in proposing the extension of the state of emergency – that ‘It is a military problem. It is no longer a police law and order problem’ – and in instructions passed on to the Bougainville commander, Colonel Dotaona, which were leaked to the press (see Post-Courier 12, 27 July 1989).

At the end of 1989 the Bougainville mine, which had provided Papua New Guinea with around 40 per cent of its exports and about 17 per cent of its government revenue, was ‘mothballed’. The following month cabinet approved an ‘all out war’ against the rebels; the military option, Prime Minister Namaliu declared, is now the only option.

Yet shortly after this intensification of the conflict a ceasefire was negotiated and the government agreed to the withdrawal of troops. This decision was not well received within the security forces, and although it was apparently intended by the government that the provincial police establishment remain to provide some semblance of law, Tohian ordered the early removal of all police, as well as the army, leaving the province virtually in the hands of the BRA. In submissions to an Australian parliamentary committee the action was described as ‘a fairly serious breakdown in the control by the Papua New Guinean Government of its force’ and bound to lead to chaos (JCFADT, Hearings, 22 October 1990, pp.752, 783-84).

Subsequently, on his way from a party in Port Moresby, Tohian called over his car radio for police and army personnel to arm themselves, arrest the prime minister, and take over the government. He and the officer in charge of the police riot squads were arrested and initially charged with treason, but the incident was not taken very seriously (being commonly referred to as ‘the barbecoup’) and the charges were subsequently dropped. (In 1992 Tohian was elected to the National Parliament and became minister for Defence.)

Two months after the withdrawal of the security forces, with negotiations for a settlement of the conflict failing to materialise, the national government cut off communications with Bougainville and imposed ‘selective economic sanctions’. This action, announced by the acting prime minister, Diro, shortly after Prime Minister Namaliu left on an overseas trip, was seen by some as a deliberate attempt to undermine proposed peace talks (see Australian 3 May 1990; May and Spriggs 1990:113). Two days later the BRA made a unilateral declaration of independence for the ‘Republic of Meekamui’. Among those named in the interim government of the republic, the ‘minister for defence and police’, Joe Pais, and the commander of the BRA, Sam Kauona, were both former PNGDF officers.

In September 1990 PNGDF troops landed on Buka Island in the north, following a request from local leaders, and the BRA was reported to have surrendered control of Buka soon after. The PNGDF was supported by a locally-organised Buka Liberation Front (BLF); (the BLF chairman described the front as an ‘authorised unauthorised security force’ sanctioned by the PNGDF and the government) though according to one account many on Buka ‘feared the BLF more than the BRA and Defence Force soldiers’ (Spriggs 1992:12; also see Post-Courier 19 December 1990). However, the arrival of troops on Buka did little to resolve the situation, which Spriggs (1992:12) described as ‘a state of civil war, with fighting between the BRA and the BLF all over the island and the PNGDF seemingly taking little part in proceedings’. On Buka there were mounting accusations of human rights violations and military action against civilian targets; an Amnesty International report in November 1990 listed nineteen cases of ‘extrajudicial execution’ and over fifty cases of torture and ill-treatment by the security forces, as well as abuses by the BRA (Amnesty International 1990b. Also see Spriggs and Denoon 1992). After a boat carrying supplies, authorised by the prime minister, had been prevented from sailing by the PNGDF commander on Buka, who threatened to fire on it, the Times of Papua New Guinea (13 December 1990) commented: ‘Confusion reigns … There does not seem to be any clear directives [sic] as to who is in authority …’

In early 1991 a second round of peace talks was held, resulting in the Honiara Declaration, which recorded the two parties’ commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Among other things the Honiara Declaration agreed to the establishment of a civilian Task Force, appointed by the minister for Provincial Affairs in consultation with a Bougainville Interim Legal Authority, to co-ordinate the restoration of services, and to accept a Multinational Supervisory Team (MST) to oversee the process of reconciliation and rehabilitation. While negotiations over the implementation of the Honiara Declaration were still proceeding, however, and with Diro again acting prime minister, some 300 PNGDF soldiers, under the command of Colonel Nuia, landed on north Bougainville and launched an operation against the BRA. Nuia claimed that the troops had been requested by local chiefs, but his action violated the terms of the Honiara Declaration and had not been authorised by the government. He came under strong criticism, especially from Momis, who described the incursion as ‘totally illegal … totally irresponsible’ and likely to jeopardise peace initiatives. Momis called for the sacking of officers involved. In the event, Nuia received a reprimand, but the operation was retrospectively endorsed by cabinet.

In the following months the extent of the growing tension between civil and military authorities in relation to Bougainville became evident on a number of occasions. In May, responding to Momis’s attacks on Nuia’s ‘invasion’ of Bougainville the previous month, an army major publicly accused the minister of promoting secession and being a BRA collaborator (Post-Courier 17 May 1991). And on Buka, Nuia physically attacked a leading member of the civilian Task Force and had another arrested and charged with sedition. Not surprisingly the civilian administrator on Buka expressed himself as not happy with the working relationship between the military and the Task Force. PNGDF opposition to the idea of a MST was also a reason for its failure to materialise.

Nuia’s somewhat erratic behaviour had already caused some concern among the Defence establishment and in June 1991 his unauthorised disclosure, to an Australian television reporter, concerning the use of Australian-supplied helicopters on Bougainville (see May 1993:22, 65), embarrassed the government and finally led to his dismissal. Momis said: ‘If we don’t put a stop to it, we cannot stop a coup’ (Post-Courier 25 June 1991). (Subsequently Nuia challenged the legality of the action and in 1992 was reinstated and put in charge of Special Projects.).

Resentment in military and defence circles of what was seen as indecision and political interference in the handling of the Bougainville situation was sharpened by Nuia’s sacking and was expressed in calls for clear directions on the specific role of PNGDF commander on Bougainville and his relation to the Task Force, and in reports that the PNGDF strength on Bougainville was ‘being scaled down drastically’ (Post-Courier 11 July 1991).

But the removal of Nuia and the briefing of the new PNGDF commander on Bougainville did not resolve the tensions between military and civilian officials. In July 1991, on the eve of further peace talks, it was announced that the Bougainville civilian administrator had imposed a curfew on parts of Buka and requested the government to withdraw the security forces from north Bougainville back to Buka. Subsequently it was reported that the security forces had imposed a new blockade on Bougainville, ‘as a protest over what they claimed to be lack of consultation with them about the national Government’s restoration program particularly over the co-ordination of ship and aircraft undertaking the restoration exercise’ (Post-Courier 24 December 1991). Ships and aircraft were being prevented from travelling regardless of whether they had authorisation from civilian officials. One of the casualties of this action was a chartered aircraft which was to have taken Bougainville leaders to Honiara for talks with a national government delegation. The following year an international delegation of church leaders, whose visit to Bougainville had been authorised by the national government, was turned away by the security forces, causing the Post-Courier’s editorial writer to ask, ‘Who controls Bougainville? … What authority does the national Government have over the military if its decisions about visits are going to be overturned?’ (21 October 1992).

In 1992-93 the Bougainville conflict spilled over the international border between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, when PNGDF troops launched several unauthorised raids into the Solomon Islands in pursuit of BRA supporters. On one occasion shots were exchanged between Papua New Guinea security forces and Solomon Islands police, and on another the Solomon Islands island of Oema was ‘annexed’ by PNGDF troops. Echoing the earlier Post-Courier editorial, a Sydney Morning Herald editorial (16 April 1993) asked:

What is going here? Who is calling the shots? … Increasingly [the PNGDF] will equate its own worth, its very identity and honour with achieving a victory, whatever the cost. In so doing it will grow less responsible to central control.

[25] The former officer was Tom Poang, a colonel and chief of personnel at the time, who left the PNGDF soon after and in 1983 was speaker in the Morobe provincial assembly.

[26] Geoff Heriot, ABC ‘Background Briefing’ 21 August 1983.

[27] Pokasui subsequently worked for Fr John Momis, parliamentary leader of the Melanesian Alliance, and was elected in 1987, becoming minister for Defence.

[28] Under the provisions of the Defence Act 1974 it is possible for a member of the PNGDF to transfer to the reserve force, and later apply for re-admission to the regular force.

[29] For a more detailed account of the background to the ‘Bougainville crisis’, the ongoing events, and their broader implications, see May (1990), May and Spriggs (1990), Oliver (1991), Spriggs and Denoon (1992), Liria (1993) and The Contemporary Pacific 4(2), 1992, special issue, ‘A legacy of development: three years of crisis in Bougainville’.