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Bougainville war: My birth in the hour of a PNGDF attack

ISHMAEL PALIPAL

IT WAS LATE OCTOBER 1992 and the civil war on our Bougainville island was at its peak.

The PNG Defence Force was taking control of most of the coastal areas around the eastern part of Bougainville. With the help of Australian-donated helicopters the PNGDF forcefully moved to take over strategic parts of the eastern coastline.

It was a very destructive era of the war because many villages were burned down and the coastal villagers fled into the mountains to escape the raids.

From what I understood later on, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army guerillas were as one with the villagers (our fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins).

Therefore PNGDF had no choice but to destroy these people who stood against them and their interests on Bougainville.

It was on one of those dreadful days that my mother gave birth to me at the peak of a PNGDF raid on our village in Koiano in Kokoda (Kieta).

Just two hours after my birth, in the midst of the hovering military choppers and people darting into the bush, the PNGDF ground troops stormed our village.

At dawn I was born and most of our villagers knew not that I was born that terrible day.

Helicopters ruled our skies. At the rattling of the helicopters, our villagers woke up in confusion thinking they were under attack.

As I glean today, during the civil war of Bougainville, my people were fighting in harmony with nature. Thus in that day our village was raided, messenger birds began crying from the surrounding bushes as the helicopters were over head.

Everyone was alerted and the small kids were ordered to move to the mountains while adults and parents tried to get collect their belongings and other necessities to sustain them in the hideouts.

My mother was too weak to carry me to the mountains. So my father told my first born sister to take her two small sisters and go up to the mountains with the rest of the village kids and old people while my mother and me waited for father to pack our basic things.

Because of the previous knowledge of how the PNGDF would burn houses, my father was trying to pack everything.

As the villagers began to snail their way into the bushes the PNGDF soldiers quickly took over the village blocking the main exit point. They fired warning shots up into the air forcing the last group of villagers to come out of the houses and surrender.

My mother and father (with me) were in the midst of this small group. Everybody obeyed and quickly came from their houses their hands high in the air in surrender.

My father told my mother to leave me inside the house otherwise the soldiers will see us inside the house and shoot us.

My mum strongly hesitated saying “How am I going to survive without my son!!” But my father was a brave man; he persuaded my mother that it’s better to leave me in the house than crying for me inside the house where we all die if the soldiers come around and find us all.

Lovingly my mother placed me down on the bed and kissed me goodbye.

My father softly stroked my head and spoke, “Son it’s going be okay”, and they left. Just as my father opened the door, he bumped into a barrel of a gun pointing at his face. My mother let out a loud cry but quickly cut it off remembering me inside.

The soldier commanded them to get out of the house, pushing my father down the stairs.

The soldiers went into the house; throwing out anything they found which suited their style of.

My father firmly took hold of my mother when she was trying to get up the stairs thinking of me.

My mother was lost in the world of grief and anger because she was not hearing a single cry from me. My father was also burning with anger but had no choice, eager only not to let my mother slip from his hands.

Then my village men and women were ordered to move into the middle of the village. Just as the villagers were settling down in the middle of the village, the BRA attack came and all the PNGDF soldiers collapsed on the ground.

My father told mum to stay low as he grabbed a gun left by a dead soldier.

He began to rush into the house for me when he saw my uncle being shot by a stealth soldier. He reacted and shot the soldier. By then, the BRA had taken control of the village.

The PNGDF soldiers escaped without harming our village. The villagers slowly got up, checked to see if it wasn’t just a bad dream, and quickly escaped to the mountains.

My mother marched towards the house to see what had happened to me.

She went fast as she could, to find that a cupboard had just fallen covering but leaving a good space for me to breath.

Comments

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Ishmael Palipal

Thanks Leonard and Keith for giving me this opportunity to share my side of the Bougainville conflict.

I'll pass it around to share it with the people (parents, families, friends etc) who told me about the crisis. Thankyou.

Leonard Roka

This story is actually about the 1992 PNGDF force landing at Toimanapu in what is now the Kokoda Constituency of Kieta.

In fact, the PNGDF raided inland from the main Arawa-Buin highway. But when they failed, they withdraw to the Toimanapu beach front - where they did remained until 1996.

I am pushing Ishmael to write with me about Bougainville experiences and he will be around.

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