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Bougainville Revolution

The Bougainville Revolution was a nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville which ended in 1997 after claiming some 10,000 to 20,000 lives. Bougainville Island, part of Papua New Guinea (PNG), has a history of separatist feelings. Behind some Bougainvilleans' separatism was the view that the money from the Panguna Copper Mine, a development which accounted for much of PNG's export revenue, was going to the national government and overseas and not back to the local community. This simmering resentment, together with other local tensions, led to the outbreak of hostilities in 1989. The conflict spread throughout the island and lasted a decade.

The island suffered much unrest triggered initially by the use of non-Indigenous labor in the Islands largest copper mine. As a result of a breakdown in negotiations, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was formed in 1988. Led by Francis Ona, the BRA committed various acts of sabotage, and occassionally clashed with both the Papuan New Guinea army and police.

From late 1988, the destruction of power lines and attacks on the mine marked the beginning of a 9 year conflict. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) led by Francis Ona and Sam Kauona and joined by members of the Provincial Government, co-ordinated a campaign against the mine and declared independence for Bougainville. The populist ideology of the BRA promoted a kind of agrarian socialism with emphasis on traditional culture.

The BRA became an effective paramilitary organisation. The BRA was successful in that it managed, through terrorist attacks, to shut down the Panguna mine in 1989.

PNG deployed its Defence force to suppress widespread property destruction and a growing separatist movement. Its intervention only inflamed the islanders and caused the situation to deteriorate further. Plans for a truce collapsed due to mutual mistrust among the leading groups and the task force was withdrawn.

Tensions were exacerbated when, in May 1990, the Papuan government blockaded Bougainville. The Papua New Guinea government failed to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile the undisciplined actions of the BRA led to disillusion among villagers, and they responded by forming resistance forces who were in turn armed by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. The PNGDF was able to reoccupy Buka island on the northern tip of Bougainville from September 1990.

During the next few years, sporadic violence continued as the Papuan Foreign Minister, Sir Julius Chan, attempted to secure a peace between the two parties. During this period in time, the Papuan government had attempted to get military assitance from Australia and New Zealand. When these two countries refused, the Papuan government hired mercenaries. However, the mercenary invasion was a disaster and Australian news media soon got hold of the story.



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