PNG's private army spurs Australia into action

Last month Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, arrived in Papua New Guinea for an official visit. As members of the entourage stepped out of their Falcon jet into the hot, humid night air at Port Moresby, they saw the dark outline of the largest aircraft in the world, a Russian-made Antonov 124. Curiosity developed into confusion, swiftly followed by outrage.

The presence of the Antonov meant that Sandline International, the military advisory company, and the company it subcontracts to, Executive Outcomes, had also arrived in PNG. To Mr Downer's horror "the world's largest private army" had pitched up less than 100 miles from Australia - with equipment, personnel and an array of sophisticated weaponry.

Its presence reflected a PNG vote of no confidence in Australia's ability to assist in resolving the nine-year secessionist conflict on the island of Bougainville by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) which has consistently out-manoeuvred government troops.

This was all the more galling for Australia, since it has enjoyed a close relationship with its former colony, including a $12m (pounds 7.5m) defence contribution, military assistance and a $320m aid budget.

What led Sir Julius Chan, the Prime Minister of PNG, to privatise the training of his armed forces was his belief that his closest ally and friend, Australia, was frustrating his government's attempts to deal with the insurrection. "We ... have requested the Australians support us in providing the necessary specialist training and equipment ...They have consistently declined and therefore I had no choice but to go to the private sector," Sir Julius told The Independent.

His approach to the Bougainville problem in the early days of his administration was described by the Australians as "creative and courageous".

In 1994 he convinced the Australians to fund a short-term peace-keeping force drawn from South Pacific countries. He also initiated the Arawa Peace Conference in October that year, and in 1995 established the Bougainville Transitional Government. But all negotiations failed, due to a mixture of BRA intransigence and the ill-discipline of the PNG Defence Force, which made a habit of committing an atrocity just as a breakthrough was imminent.

Sir Julius was well aware of the lack of control he had over his army. With no assistance forthcoming from the Australians, he looked elsewhere and found it at 535 Kings Road, London, the representative offices of Sandline International. Notwithstanding all the reports about "guns for hire", the main task for Sandline and Executive Outcomes will be to whip the army into shape and to act as a "force multiplier" rather than as front-line troops.

Other, non-military, initiatives include buying back the Panguma mine on Bougainville, which is at the heart of the crisis, and directing funds towards economic redevelopment projects on the island.

The Papuans charge that the Australian approach to the problem lacks coherence. Canberra has been unequivocal in its robust condemnation of the BRA, and it endorsed and contributed to the PNG Defence White Paper in July 1996 which recommended "improving and modernising of existing capabilities in the PNGDF".

But Australia has repeatedly turned down requests for assistance in specialist training and procurement of sophisticated weaponry. Weapons and equipment were sold under the caveat that they were not to be armed and not to be used offensively in Bougainville. Australia also used its influence in the West to prevent other nations from supplying PNG with equipment. As well as being irritated by this paternal interference, the PNG government also felt that it smacked of hypocrisy.

The reasons for Canberra's reticence were simple. Despite training provided by the Australians, the PNGDF was not in good order. Offences and human rights violations committed on Bougainville acted as the best recruitment advertisement and propaganda weapon for the BRA. The Australians, wary of public opinion and of being associated with an army criticised by Amnesty International, sought to distance itself.

"What developed was a Catch 22 situation. The more the Australians distanced themselves, the worse it became. The worse it became, the more the Australians distanced themselves" says Sean Dorney, a correspondent with ABC who has lived in PNG for 11 years.

While the Australians accuse Sir Julius of employing mercenaries and of applying "a military solution" to a situation that will only backfire, Sir Julius continually reiterates his position that, whilst the national army remains a laughing stock there is little incentive for the rebels to enter into reasonable negotiation. He charges that Australia's "fence- sitting" has hamstrung the Defence Force and allowed a minority of extremists with no international justification to gain control of an area and impose their will on a terrorised people.

There are signs, however, that after the initial violent war of words over the affair, Australia and Papua New Guinea are coming closer. John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, and Sir Julius held talks on Sunday in Sydney. Following the meeting, there were indications that Australia might increase its training of PNG soldiers. Mr Howard said: "We don't like mercenaries. We think any reasonable alternative to mercenaries is to be preferred."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment