by Maire Leadbeater
Thirteen years ago New Zealand hosted peace talks for the parties to the conflict in Bougainville. Since these talks were instrumental in ending a horrific war it is understandable that New Zealand has gained a good reputation as a peace broker. Over the last decade many West Papuan leaders have urged New Zealand to take up the peacemaker mantle again. Now that the call for dialogue between West Papuan representatives and the Government of Indonesia is high on the agenda, it is time for a closer look at New Zealand’s role in helping to broker peace in Bougainville.
For my part I would be delighted if my Government would develop and extend its reputation as a peace broker and I have repeatedly called for New Zealand to make the offer to help facilitate talks for West Papua. However, the Bougainville example is complex – there is a good news story about New Zealand’s role in the 1997 and 1998 talks, but a less benign story about our diplomatic role in the early stages of the conflict with Papua New Guinea. It is important to consider the whole picture, especially if New Zealand’s past role with respect to Bougainville is to become the model for future conflict resolution in West Papua.
Despite the passage of time, the broad parameters of New Zealand foreign policy making have not changed greatly since the time of our Bougainville achievement. But, New Zealand Government representatives have been singularly cautious in responding to requests for help from West Papuans. This is not so puzzling if one looks a little more closely at New Zealand foreign policy and in particular at its West Papua policy.
There is a flattering perception that New Zealand’s foreign policy has an ethical foundation and is independent – ‘made in Wellington’ rather than ‘made in Washington’. Unfortunately the reality is not so rosy, but sometimes a good international reputation, even if not fully merited, can be put to good use.
As much as anything New Zealand’s ‘good reputation’ is based on New Zealand’s refusal to toe the western line on nuclear issues. In the mid 1980s New Zealand broke with the mould by refusing to accept nuclear warships in its ports and passing legislation to confirm its nuclear free status. That achievement reflects years of organising, campaigning and protesting on land and water. It is definitely to our credit that we have managed to stay nuclear free despite massive pressure from the United States.
On the down-side we have Wikileaks to thank for revealing recently that New Zealand fully restored its intelligence relationship in August 2009. The leaked cables from the Wellington US Embassy document that both our current Prime Minister John Key and his predecessor Helen Clark were very willing to improve NZ-US ties and to find ways to manage the ‘domestic political sensitivities’. In practice this has meant that New Zealand has contributed to the US-led wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In foreign policy New Zealand usually lines up closely with Australia. Sometimes there are tensions, and differences of approach as there were over the Bougainville talks, but the two Trans-Tasman cousins are firmly aligned to the western group of states. Both belong to powerful intelligence and military alliances such as the secretive UKUSA Agreement and the Five Power Defence Agreement and have military ties to the ASEAN member nations. New Zealand gives military training aid under its Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP) to a number of states in the Asia-Pacific including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
New Zealand’s West Papua policy from the 1960s to the present is based on preserving cordial ties with Indonesia, a policy which does not differ substantially from that of Australia, Britain and the United States.
The West Papua policy is bi-partisan and did not change when our Labour–led Government ceded office to a National-led Government at the end of 2008. This is the official mantra:
‘New Zealand will continue to support peaceful and sustainable development in Papua and the full implementation of the Special Autonomy Law (OTSUS) for the benefit of all those living there.’
In our Parliament, only the Green Party is a consistent advocate for West Papuan rights, including the right to self-determination.
For the sake of restored defence ties, New Zealand has chosen to overlook the evidence of Indonesian military brutality and lack of accountability for past crimes. All defence ties were suspended in 1999 at the height of the post-referendum violence in Timor-Leste. But in 2007 they were quietly restored. About the same time New Zealand began a training programme for the West Papuan police.
One sentence was included in speech delivered by then Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters late in 2006: ‘Indonesia has accepted our invitation to have an officer attend next year's NZDF Command and Staff College course, and the College's tour will incorporate Indonesia.’ Although the Indonesian Ambassador to New Zealand, Amris Hassan, welcomed the move suggesting to Indonesian media that it is a ‘new chapter in the relations between two countries’, it was New Zealand that sought out reengagement.
During the Suharto era our Government was often on the back foot over its defence ties with the dictatorial regime, so officials sought to keep the training deployments out of the public eye. Neither the public nor the parliament was consulted when defence ties were resumed.
Compared with the military training and equipment supplies provided to the Indonesian security forces by Australia and the United States, New Zealand’s support is low-key. The military training is largely limited to officer exchanges.
More recently, selected members of the West Papuan police have taken part in New Zealand led workshops where they have been introduced to the gentle art of engaging with communities. There is nothing wrong with a preventative approach to crime, but it seems unlikely that short courses will succeed in transforming an oppressive police force into kindly neighbourhood cops. The systematic use of violence and torture practiced by the mostly migrant police force there has been well documented. The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) states that the security forces routinely torture and beat suspects and convicts to extract confessions or obtain information.
When I visited West Papua last November, I found that many people were aware of the New Zealand programme, which has been publicised in the local media. For those in the NGO and activist community, training the police was generally seen as equivalent to supporting the coercive arm of the state. Surely New Zealand should choose instead to spend their aid dollars on scholarships for young Papuans to study English in New Zealand?
But from the perspective of the New Zealand Embassy the NZAID-funded Community Policing Initiative has become ‘the centerpiece of New Zealand’s constructive engagement approach with Indonesia on the Papua issue. It demonstrates New Zealand is serious in its desire to make a real difference on the ground…’ Embassy officials reported on the ‘warm reception’ they received in their round of official meetings.
Sometimes even the police programme has not been enough to oil the diplomatic wheels. New Zealand Embassy officials had to reassure TNI Chief of Staff Brigadier General Hambali that ‘the New Zealand Government did not support separatism’ before he would drop his guard.
This meeting was then written up in the Papua Pos newspaper and also on the military website as a ‘New Zealand is on our side’ news story.
Of course, no one should confuse this unfavourable picture of official New Zealand policy on West Papua with the views of the New Zealand public. I believe public interest and sympathy has gradually increased along with disquiet about our Government’s expedient realpolitik approach.
Thirteen years ago New Zealand set an important peace brokering precedent when it hosted a series of talks, involving all the parties to the conflict on the island of Bougainville. New Zealand was motivated by humanitarian concern, but New Zealand was not neutral and it did not move until it had a green light from the big players, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Bougainvilleans share with West Papuans a sense of being wronged by the process of decolonisation. For reasons of historical trading ties, geography, and cultural factors, most Bougainvilleans saw themselves as part of the Solomons archipelago and resented their incorporation into Papua New Guinea in 1975. The people had a strong sense of being ethnically distinct.
The young Boungainvillean heroine of Lloyd Jones’ novel, ‘Mister Pip’, expresses it this way: ‘According to Port Moresby we are one country. According to us we are as black as the night. The [PNG] soldiers looked like people leached up out of the red earth. That’s why they were known as redskins.’
A further common factor is the issue of resource exploitation, which began when Australia was the colonial administrator of the territory. The huge open cast mine at Panguna left social and environmental destruction in its wake.
‘For villagers the technology of helicopters, drills, 105-tonne trucks and bulldozers ravaging their luxuriously verdant mountains was terrifying. There were also some 10,000 construction workers, nearly all male, mostly alien and seemingly, menacing. A billion tonnes of ore was eventually to be processed; the crater left would be four sq kms: the Jaba River would be polluted for 50 years.’
This description would surely resonate with the Komoro and Amungme people of West Papua who have been forced to suffer the impacts of the Freeport McMoran mine on their lives and ancestral land.
Until its closure in 1989 the giant Panguna open cast gold and copper mine owned by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Australian company CRA now Rio Tinto, was the was a source of some 17 % of the PNG Governments internal revenue and 36 % of gross export earnings.
In 1988 and 1989 indigenous landowners in the mine area formed the Panguna Landowners Association. When PNG and the mine authorities would not give them a hearing they resorted to a programme of civil disobedience which culminated in the destruction of the electrical pylons serving the mine. PNG deployed riot police and later the military. Francis Ona, and his landowner supporters formed the BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army) and began a struggle for independence.
In January 1990 Australian citizens were evacuated and PNG proceeded to close down all services, banks, health facilities and schools. A tight blockade was imposed. The people could not access humanitarian assistance or medicine. Education ground to a stand-still. At least 8,000 or more than 5% of the population died in just under a decade of war from violence or disease.
The community was wrenched into warring factions:
‘Guerrilla warfare establishes separate groups that can coalesce or split up according to ever-changing circumstances; they can change sides almost overnight. Families found themselves in need and had to choose sides just to survive… Those who tried to remain neutral during the war… found they were victims of either the PNG occupation forces or the PNG blockade…. thousands of people found themselves herded into ‘care centres’. The alternative was to accept life on the run or to retreat into the mountains behind the blockade.’
Moses Havini, Bougainville’s international representative during the conflict once described the war in Bougainville as ‘Australia’s proxy war’. Australia has major economic interests in Papua New Guinea and in the mid-1990s was contributing over $300 million to PNG in aid. Australian increased the level of its defence support during the war and Australian supplied helicopters flown by Australian and New Zealand mercenary pilots flew strafing missions. Shockingly the helicopters were also used to drop BRA suspects into the sea, and to conduct raids on suspected militants within the Solomon Islands. New Zealand’s pilots came in for official criticism but there was no formal investigation of their potential involvement in war crimes.
Bougainville solidarity activists in New Zealand in the early 1990s were appalled at the Government’s complacency and refusal to risk upsetting the Papua New Guinea Government. The New Zealand Government told us that it would undertake ‘quiet diplomacy’ but saw the problems as an ‘internal matter for the Papua New Guinea Government to resolve.’ PNG officers continued to come to New Zealand to take part in training courses and exchange visits and in 1994 at the time of a visit from PNG Prime Minister Paias Wingti a ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ was concluded.
New Zealand sent humanitarian aid but our Government simply accepted PNG’s assurances that the aid was being widely distributed when other information indicated that the aid only went to the areas under full PNG control.
It therefore came as a surprise to me to learn several years after the fact that Foreign Minister Don McKinnon had visited Bougainville in 1993 . He was moved : ‘by the vacant stares on people’s faces’ and the sight of ‘a generation of young people who had received no education of any kind, except on how to clean M16s and how to shelter from mortar shells…’ He said that this experience led him to the view that New Zealand ‘had a responsibility as a neighbour and a friend, to try to do something to better prepare these people for the next millennium.’
Prior to 1997 this concern did not translate into strong regional leadership, or outspoken human rights advocacy. Bougainville remained off the formal agenda of the South Pacific Forum until 1997. New Zealand assisted with logistics for some of the earlier failed attempts at peace processes, but maintained the position that it was ‘willing to help’ with mediation but only if asked.
Fortunately for the people of Bougainville, there were many ‘doves’ within PNG civil society and government circles. These parliamentarians, Church leaders, and officials were behind many negotiation endeavours. There were also many internal attempts at reconciliation between Bougainville’s opposing factions. According to Hilary Charlesworth and her colleagues at ANU there were as many as 11 attempts at peace processes, which, while they failed in the short term, helped to lay the ground for ultimate success in a negotiated end to the conflict.
The 1996 Papua New Guinea offensive ‘Operation High Speed 11’ended badly for PNG, with 10 soldiers killed and others taken prisoner. A small determined guerrilla resistance showed no signs of backing down in the face of the greater military might of Papua New Guinea.
Frustrated, the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan secretly contracted Sandline International, a notorious firm of mercenaries to ‘render the BRA militarily ineffective and repossess the Panguna Mine.’
In February 1997, journalist Mary-Lousie O’Callaghan broke this story in the ‘The Australian ’ setting off a train of dramatic events. PNG was plunged into constitutional crisis when the Commander of the Defence Forces called for the resignation of Prime Minister Chan and took it upon himself to terminate the Sandline contract. Chan was voted out of office not long after.
The debacle had an upside - it strengthened the momentum for a negotiated end to the conflict. There was a ‘widespread consensus in Bougainville that violent conflict between Bougainvilleans was destructive and had to end.’
Australia was not in a very good position to take advantage of this opportunity. From the point of view of the Bougainville independence movement Australia was far too closely aligned with the Papua New Guinea Government and military.
Australia clearly had a lot at stake, beyond its economic interests in the Panguna mine. There was the Australia-Papua-New Guinea-Indonesia nexus to consider. Papua New Guinea had recently strengthened its Jakarta ties and hardened its stance towards the independence movement in West Papua. For Australia this was a welcome move and in line with its own support for Jakarta against the threat of ‘separatism’. From their perspective, Bougainville breaking free of Papua New Guinea would set a dangerous regional precedent.
So, there was a perception that New Zealand, unlike Australia, could be impartial as it did not have such significant conflicts of interests. Foreign Minister Don McKinnon decided that the time was propitious for a New Zealand initiative. New Zealand made direct approaches to BRA representatives at a time when this was contrary to Australian policy.
A key player in the New Zealand initiative was diplomat John Hayes, a former Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to Bougainville. John Hayes and Don McKinnon, were both personally involved in the covert negotiations with Bougainville leaders and other key players that preceded the talks..
Today John Hayes is an MP in the ruling National Party and he is more than happy to share his Papua New Guinea and Bougainville experiences and insights. He had some unusual strategies and was able to build on the good relations he enjoyed with key figures such as the PNG Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Bill Dihm. John Hayes relates that their friendship was cemented in 1989 during a two day sail on the Marlborough Sounds – in the middle of winter with the temperature dropping to around 7 degrees.
John Hayes confronted personal danger in Bougainville - his helicopter was fired on when he attempted to meet with Francis Ona and his team. But he became resourceful in finding ways to gain cooperation, using humour and sometimes even what he called ‘reverse black magic’ or ‘puri puri’ – his whalebone tiki Te Amokura which he told people would harm ‘anyone who harms me’.
On July 5, 1997 New Zealand brought more than 70 Bougainville leaders, including many women, together at the Burnham military camp near Christchurch. Revolutionary leader Francis Ona (President of the self-declared BIG or Bougainville Interim Government) and his close supporters refused to take part, but BIG Vice President Joseph Kabui did participate as did other BRA leaders.
The processes used in the meeting were quite eclectic; the use of Maori kawa or protocol blended with Bougainvillean ceremony helped to break barriers between opposing sides. The New Zealand facilitation was intentionally unobtrusive. John Hayes likened this to the style of a ‘mosquito’. ‘Make an intervention and then withdraw, leaving ownership of the process with the parties.’
Initially, New Zealand Defence personnel positioned themselves between the factions to prevent any possible violence, but none took place. Women set the precedent for their men by openly reconciling with their sisters from opposing factions. The delegates were taken on various tourism jaunts including to shopping malls ‘to show them what they had been missing out on for 10 years.’ During a traditional venting session: ‘tarout’, the parties let it all out in unrestrained emotional outpourings.
The ‘Burnham Declaration’ signed at the conclusion of the talks was a breakthrough and paved the way for the second Burnham talks in October 1997. At these talks the Bougainville leaders met with PNG leaders, Australian and Solomon Island representatives. An unarmed Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) under New Zealand command was dispatched in December 1997.
Progress was further cemented in January 1998 at Lincoln University where leaders of other Pacific countries participated in the meeting. A permanent ceasefire agreement was signed.
These negotiations did not address the two fundamental catalysts of the conflict: the future of the Panguna mine or the political status of Bougainville. However, by 2002 PNG had passed laws implementing the Bougainville peace agreement based on acceptance of a deferred referendum on independence within 10-15 years and the ‘highest possible autonomy’ in the interim.
After the Lincoln meeting the negotiations increasingly involved other players, Australia, the United Nations, and fellow Melanesian nations, Fji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The 2002 agreement was a compromise proposed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Downer. A key element of the compromise was Bougainville’s acceptance that the referendum would not be binding but subject to the ultimate authority of the PNG Parliament. It is conceivable that the people of Bougainville might vote for independence only to have the PNG Parliament reject their choice.
New Zealand is widely credited with allowing the Bougainvilleans to find their own solutions, and that holds true for our role in first stage of the peace negotiations, when the agenda was limited to building trust and ending hostilities.
Media comment at the time suggested that New Zealand’s bolder approach caused some tensions in the trans-Tasman bilateral relations. However, other evidence suggests that the rift was not fundamental or long lasting.
New Zealand always kept Australia informed. The two Foreign Ministers Don McKinnon and Alexander Downer are said to have collaborated closely. Downer like McKinnon was affected by his personal experiences in Bougainville – he later recounted being moved by an accidental encounter with Bougainvillean women from both sides of the conflict who were conducting a joint peace march.
Some Bougainville leaders were alert to the possibility that New Zealand might have a hidden agenda or be too susceptible to Australian influence
After the first Burnham Talks, Don McKinnon visited Bougainville and was welcomed by Interim Government Vice-President Joseph Kabui who was effusive about New Zealand’s Burnham hospitality and the new unity among Bougainvillean factions. He cautioned Don McKinnon not to allow the Australian influence to ‘redirect the spirit of Burnham’. He went on to say ‘People must be given a real choice. The land and the blood that has been shed, are intricately linked together…with the issue of self-determination.’
Reuben Siara, an advisor to Francis Ona, feared that the process had strengthened Australia’s hand ‘Perhaps the people did accept New Zealand more easily than Australia but to me it didn’t make any real difference…New Zealand had to get involved at the outset to open the door for Australia..’ Siara believes his view was confirmed when New Zealand passed over the command of the peacekeeping forces to Australia in May 1998.
Siara wrote this before the 2002 agreement on a deferred referendum. Was this the best outcome that could be achieved for Bougainville? Would Bougainville have achieved more if they had begun negotiations with an alternative and more genuinely neutral mediator than New Zealand? On the other hand it is probable that Papua New Guinea and Australia would not have agreed to join a peace process with an alternative neutral mediator. Of course, these questions are nearly impossible to answer in retrospect.
The Burnham process did not run according to any textbook on conflict resolution, but it did offer the participants a secure environment and the luxury of time. Somehow in the depths of a South Island winter a ‘Melanesian way’ was fostered – allowing the bitterness of the past to be expressed without restraint.
Long term gains for Bougainville? The Panguna mine remains closed but there have been some talks recently with landowners about the possibility of re-opening it.
I asked a leading Bougainville woman activist Josephine Siriviof the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom to share some reflections with me about the Bougainville peace process. She told me that peace in 2011 means relief ‘from living in fear and suffering’, the chance to rebuild structures that were destroyed by war – including the fabric of traditional life: ‘women taking up roles in their rightful places’ in matrilineal societies which were ‘distorted by the white men’s culture’.
For Josephine the ‘long lasting peace’ on Bougainville is the achievement of the women who used traditional ways of peacemaking to broker peace among the men. Josephine believes a truth and reconciliation process is needed now and that it must also be conducted according to Bougainville protocol. The peace package with PNG is not being backed by adequate funding but is ‘like a can without meat’, so the struggle for resources and justice for the future generation continues.
So how likely is it that New Zealand might assist in future with peace broking for West Papua? Unfortunately, firm conclusions are not possible.
In West Papua today, as in Bougainville in 1997, there is a ‘consensus for peace’ marked by growing movement towards unity among groups that have not always worked well together. So we could say that the West Papuans have made similar preparations, to those made by the people in Bougainville before the Burnham peace talks began.
The sticking point is likely to be that New Zealand will not act unless it gets a nod of approval from Indonesia and probably also Australia.
Ten years ago we seemed to be making progress. This was the time of the brief ‘Papuan Spring’ when reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid was in power and gave his backing to a reconciliation approach including an agreement to rename the province Papua and allowing a national congress open to all to take place. His initiatives were soon derailed by the Generals, but this was also a time when New Zealand was more active on the Papuan issue.
Foreign Minister Phil Goff met with Free Papua Movement (OPM) Spokesperson John Ondawame, against his officials’ advice. The Minister later cautiously hinted that New Zealand might be willing to play a mediation role – if that was acceptable to both parties.
Foreign Minister Goff represented New Zealand at the Southwest Pacific Dialogue Forum Yogyakarta in 2002. Before the meeting, Phil Goff said ‘It is hypothetical, but if we were requested, we can play a fruitful role in the talks on Papua.’
After the meeting, Phil Goff said ‘What we are basically putting on the table is New Zealand’s readiness, if requested, to give assistance to help in the resolution of the situation in Papua. That is not to say we are trying to impose on them. The decision rests in Indonesia’s court if and when it thinks it is appropriate.’
He was not confident of success: ‘Indonesia has always been very wary about third party involvement in what it regards as essentially a domestic affair.’
Regrettably, there does not seem to have been any progress since 2002, despite this issue being raised repeatedly with New Zealand political leaders and Foreign Affairs officials. Several West Papuan leaders, including Father Neles Tebay, have raised this issue publicly and in private meetings with New Zealand Foreign Affairs officials and politicians.
We hope however, that the personal meetings have stirred the consciences of the powerbrokers. The Bougainville example shows that the personal commitment of politicians and diplomats can make a difference. When they considered that the time was right, both Foreign Minister Don McKinnon and diplomat John Hayes were willing to take initiatives and, at times personal risks, to ensure the peace talks got under way.
The current New Zealand Government led by Prime Minister John Key is not known for any creative foreign policy initiatives. The order of the day is about pursuing free trade deals both at a multilateral and bilateral level and human rights issues play second fiddle when trade deals are at stake. However, none of us can predict how the political dynamics will play out in the future or when there will be a change in Jakarta’s stance on dialogue with West Papuan representatives.
Even if at the end of the day New Zealand does not play a role in peace broking, the debate about how New Zealand should engage with West Papua is an important one. As solidarity activists it is vital that we highlight the improper use of New Zealand resources to support the repressive security forces and contrast this with the potential gains of resources spent on peace making or supporting West Papua’s civil society peacemakers.
New Zealand solidarity activists will continue to advocate for comprehensive change in our Government’s West Papua policy and for aid to the police and military to be ended.
We will also continue to challenge New Zealand to offer its peace broking services to assist with the process of dialogue between West Papuan representatives and the Government of Indonesia.
Maire Leadbeater, Spokesperson, Indonesia Human Rights Committee, Auckland.