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The ‘Sandline Affair’: Papua New Guinea Resorts to Mercenarism to End the Bougainville Conflict*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2009

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For at least a decade, die Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been engaged in armed efforts to terminate a secessionist movement on the island of Bougainville off the South East coast of the PNG mainland. In late 1996, the government agreed to hire the firm of Sandline International to provide mercenary assistance, in a desperate bid to regain effective control of Bougainville. In an ironical twist to the cycle of violence and missed opportunities for peaceful resolution of the conflict, the controversial decision to engage Sandline proved to be the very catalyst to facilitate a process which appears to offer a real prospect for a negotiated settlement to the dispute.

The public disclosure of the decision of the then-Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, to resort to mercenarism was condemned by regional governments and resulted in widespread civil disturbance in PNG. Ultimately, the Chan Government was overthrown in a general election and the new government of Prime Minister Bill Skate has participated in the negotiation of an agreement to establish an independent Truce Monitoring Group and an end to me Bougainville conflict.

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Copyright © T.M.C. Asser Instituut and the Authors 1998

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1. Background Notes 1988 – 1997: Bougainville, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,

2. See The Age [Melbourne] (19 03 1997)Google Scholar.

3. Supra n. 1.

4. Statement by SirChan, Julius reported in The Age (19 03 1997)Google Scholar. See also statement by Sandline, reported in Sydney Morning Herald (27 02 1997)Google Scholar.

5. The text of the agreement is available at:

6. Sir Julius Chan's plan for Bougainville had included a plan for the PNG Government to purchase CRA's controlling share in the Panguna mine and to reopen and operate the mine once the military operation had successfully restored PNGDF control of Bougainville.

7. The Sandline Contract with the PNG government included this claim by Sandline. However, the terms of the contract itself indicate the intention of the parties for Sandline personnel to engage in operational and command activities, not merely in training in the use of particular weaponry.

8. Statement by SirChan, Julius reported in The Age (18 03 1997)Google Scholar.

9. PNG Post-Courier, Niuswire (19 03 1997)Google Scholar.

10. Statement by SirChan, Julius reported in The Age (19 03 1997)Google Scholar.

11. See Sydney Morning Herald (1 April 1997).

12. BBC Online (19 January 1998).

13. See statements by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, MrDowner, , reported in Sydney Morning Herald (6 06 1997)Google Scholar.

14. See Sydney Morning Herald (20 March 1997).

15. See The Age (18 March 1997).

16. The transcripts of the inquiry are available at:

17. See Sydney Morning Herald (6 June 1997).

18. Asia-Pacific News Network (2 July 1997).

19. 44 UN GAOR, G.A. Res. A/44/341 (1994).

20. See Sydney Morning Herald (19 June 1997) which reported the Australian government's intention to participate in the treaty. Australian radio and television reports claimed that the PNG government was also considering acceding to the treaty.

21. As of October 1998, neither state has signed the treaty.

22. Supra n. 1.

23. The full text of the Agreement is available at the following address:

24. 53 UN SCOR, UN Doc. S/PRST/1998/10 (22 April 1998).

25. Conversation with Australian Foreign Ministry Official.

26. Copy of text on file with author and not publicly available at the time of writing.

27. ‘Prime Minister Skate Announces Decision to Withdraw Defence Force and End Call-Out in Arawa’, Press Release (2 June 1998). Copy on file with author.

28. Ibid.