Gary Juffa: Shedding PNG blood for corporate interest – didn’t we learn?

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Bougainville ... "A crisis that could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing the destruction of a people and their future had the Papua New Guinea government exercised restraint. Image: Gary Juffa/File

OPINION: By Gary Juffa in Port Moresby

The deployment of military troops to Hela province is reminiscent of tragic events that unfolded about 28 years ago that sparked off a crisis and left more then 20,000 Papua New Guineans dead.

When Bougainvilleans decried the unfair treatment of landowners, pollution and lack of the government’s care for fairness and future, the government reacted by sending Mobile Force troops. Their brutal effort at reprisal triggered off one of the bloodiest moments in Papua New Guinea’s short history as an independent nation.

It is to be forever known as the Bougainville Crisis.

A crisis that could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing the destruction of a people and their future had the government exercised restraint.

Instead, the Bougainville Crisis saw our blood shed for corporate interest in a bloody 10-year struggle.

We are still rebuilding, still recovering.

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Will things ever return to normal? Who knows. We can only hope.

Fundamental lesson
The fundamental lesson from that terrible period for Papua New Guinea should be that such confrontations should be avoided as much as possible, and peaceful options be exhausted first and that human consideration supersede corporate interest.

Diplomacy and tact and traditional means of conflict resolution must be exhausted before any such decision is even considered.

Even then there are a variety of possible meditation platforms such as having third party negotiators and international organisations be considered to broker a peaceful way forward.

Some 300 shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have left our shores with not a single toea returning to landowners. Of course there is bitterness and a sense of anxiety and much concern as to whether they will see any benefit at all.

What are the possible outcomes of the troop deployment?

Do the benefits justify the effort?

All it will take is one mistake that may result in injury or death and we will have another crisis on our hands.

And Hela has the grave potential to be far worse then Bougainville…no doubt foreign intervention would be on the cards.

I hope common sense prevails and we find peaceful resolutions and not the kind of use of force that may lead to regrettable events in the future.

Gary Juffa is an opposition MP in Papua New Guinea’s Parliament and governor of Northern province. He writes on his blog Juffa#TakeBackPNG and his articles are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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