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Bougainville: Fiji 'Mercenaries' Spark Controversy

Bougainville: Fiji 'Mercenaries' Spark Region Controversy

(RA's Pacific Beat/Pacific Media Watch):
Eight years have passed since the Papua New Guinea military launched an attack on its own government over the so-called "Sandline" mercenaries affair. Well, it now appears that mercenaries have returned to the country, with revelations up to nine former Fijian soldiers are now working on the once troubled island of Bougainville. The soldiers were recruited by Noah Musingku, the backer of a failed pyramid money scheme who is now operating out of Bougainville's no-go zone. The controversy has also sparked concern back in Fiji, where there are fears the recruitment of former soldiers to serve as security guards in international hot-spots is now out of control.

Presenter/Interviewer: James Panichi
Speakers: Ezekiel Massat, Police Minister, Bougainville Autonomous Government; Jerry Singirok, former PNG Army Commander; Sakiusa Raivoce, recruiter, Global Risk Strategies (Fiji)

PANICHI: It was March 16, 1997, and the PNG Armed Forces had just launched "Operation Rausim Kwik".

It was a move by the military to prevent the government deploying foreign mercenaries on war-torn Bougainville.

The mercenaries were eventually forced out of PNG, but the affair sparked a commission of inquiry and, ultimately, allowed the peace process to gain momentum.

But now, the mercenaries are back, although this time they won't be taking their orders from the government.

Ezekiel Massat is the police minister of the now autonomous PNG province of Bougainville.

MASSAT: Yes, as Minister I can confirm that we have nine Fijian nationals who are currently at Tonu, which is the Siwai area of Bougainville.

These nine Fijians are either serving Fijian military personnel or they are ex-military personnel and it's causing a lot of concerns for us because while we are trying to establish government services on the ground and while we have actively engaged in weapons disposal still you have these foreign nationals who come in and it's causing a lot of concern.

PANICHI: The Bougainville government is still finding its feet after the May elections and news of foreign mercenaries on its territory has come as a surprise.

The death in July of rebel leader Francis Ona had initially led to the hope that the so-called 'no-go zone', still controlled by his supporters, would eventually acknowledge the government's authority.

Now it appears that the colourful identity behind a failed pyramid scheme, Noah Musingku, may have political plans of his own.

Jerry Singirok, the former PNG army commander who ordered the 1997 revolt, is now calling on Pacific governments - including that of Fiji - to intervene.

SINGIROK: The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting recently addressed this issue of security. This is the time now that they should address a common issue of this nature. This is the time they should talk about it and put their foot down.

As you know, Fijians provide mercenaries right around the world. In their backyard, their is an opportunity for mercenaries to come into Bougainville. And it's important that the government of Papua New Guinea acts quickly, acts decisively, to prevent what may be another escalation of the armed struggle.

PANICHI: Little is known about what the Fiji citizens are doing on Bougainville, although initial reports suggest they have been providing Mr Musingku's young recruits with firearms training.

The Fiji government has confirmed all men are former members of the military and that they were sent to Bougainville with the support of their local churches.

Hundreds of former Fiji soldiers are now working as security guards in Iraq and throughout the middle east.

The work has been a boon for the men, many of whom served as peacekeepers in Lebanon, only to face unemployment back home.

But Sakiusa Raivoce - just one of the recruiters sending men to Iraq - he would never allow his men to go to other parts of the Pacific.

RAIVOCE: I would not even consider it, if this is the type of work they are going to carry out: training schoolchildren in the use of arms. You don't go to a foreign country and train civilians in the use of arms: there are people in that country that should do that, not from another country.

PANICHI: Are you disappointed that there have been Fijians or Fijian recruiters who have been prepared to take on this type of work?

RAIVOCE: If it is illegal, then I am sure that all of us who have served in the military would not want the name of the military tarnished by this kind of work, as highlighted in the media today.

PANICHI: Meanwhile, the revelations have prompted calls for the Fiji government to do more to help its returning peacekeepers to reintegrate into society.

The Citizens Constitutional Forum, a local NGO, has also been calling for the government to monitor the security industry and to ensure its fully aware of the work being carried out by Fiji citizens abroad.

CCF director, Reverend Akuila Yabaki, says that at present, there is no way to monitor whether former soldiers are being employed as mercenaries.

YABAKI: It's a matter of concern that half a dozen people should find themselves in Bougainville. Goodness knows why they are there and how they are going to be useful.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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