Papua New Guinea
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PNGDF on historic humanitarian mission

BY PETERSON TSERAHA

It was emotional, historic – and too many Bougainvilleans were uneasy – when a Papua New Guinea Defence Force vessel sailed into Buka passage on Wednesday this week.

The PNGDF or its agents have not been to the island for more than 20 years since the end of the bloody, decade-long Bougainville crisis.

The memories and pain of the crisis obviously were still fresh in the minds of many on the island, but yet hundreds turned up; men, women and children, and in true Melanesian fashion, welcomed the sailors on board HMPNGS Cape Gloucester, which sailed all the way from the Tarangau naval base in Manus to Bougainville.

Its mission this time was not war but humanity.

Member for Tsitalato and ABG Minister for Police John Bosco Ragu appealed to his people to give their hearts and minds to the sailors so they could move around freely to deliver humanitarian supplies to victims of the Mt Bagana volcanic eruption.

The sailors were there to assist the Autonomous Bougainville Government evacuate those in danger and bring relief supplies to those who need it.

In an emotional ceremony, the sailors and others were led to the aptly named Bel Isi (Peace) park, where women of Ieta village accorded them the traditional ceremony called ‘tsutsu‘, where water is poured on their feet to welcome them.

The traditional and government welcome will allow them to move on and deliver the much-needed humanitarian supplies to care centres on Piva and Wakunai.

Earlier, the sailors, under the command of Lieutenant Bryan Pohai were met at the Buka wharf by ABG Police Minister John Bosco Ragu, head of the Bougainville Police Service Francis Tokura and members of the Bougainville Police Service (PBS).

They were led to the Buka wharf gate where a combined parade of the BPS and the PNGDF Navy was formed and proceeded to the Bel Isi Park.

Defence Minister Win Bakri Daki was accompanied by Manasseh Makiba Minister for Bougainville Affairs, Minister for ICT and member for South Bougainville Timothy Masiu Bougainville Regional Member and Minister for Internal Security Peter Tsiamalili Junior member for Central Bougainville Simon Dumarinu.

They were joined by ABG Minister for Community Government Theonila Matbob and Member for Hagogohe Robert Hamal Sawa.

Mr Daki, greeting former Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader Sam Kauona and shaking his hand was also a special moment.

“Sam Kauona, I have always heard about you now I have shook hands with you and it is a real honour for me,” Daki told Kauona.

The PNGDF sailors will assist the ABG disaster department evacuate and transport relief supplies to those affected by eruption.

Member for Tsitalato and ABG Minister for Police John Bosco Ragu welcomed the sailors on behalf of ABG President Ishmael Toroama.

“As the member for Tsitalato and the ABG Minister for Police and Correctional Services on behalf of the President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville His Excellency Ishmael Toroama, I welcome everyone to the program Sankamap Mount Bagana Humanitarian Assistance,” Mr Ragu said.

“We are all here now to witness the PNGDF soldiers under the leadership of Prime Minister James Marape who are now here on the ground to assist us with logistics for transporting relief supplies into the care centres in Torokina and Wakunai.

We are all here to welcome these sailors with our heart and minds so that they can move freely and carry out their duties here on Bougainville.

“This program was launched last Saturday in East New Brittan Province where the East New Britain Governor was also present to witness the launching and to see this navy vessel sail out to come here. Abiding by the (Bougainville) Peace Agreement a request was made by ABG President to the Prime Minister James Marape for assistance, which is now coming true today right in front of our eyes.

“Once again a warm welcome to the crew of the HMPNGS Cape Gloucester into the autonomous Region of Bougainville,” he said.