4 Feb 2005

NZ police hope for peaceful resolution to Bougainville roadblock impasse

2:25 pm on 4 February 2005

New Zealand police working on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville say they hope a major roadblock at Aropa can be removed without police having to be armed.

The roadblock is being maintained by a breakaway faction of the rebel Mekamui Defence Force, and is understood to be mainly targetted at preventing activities by Australian police.

Australian Federal Police are working with 120 Bougainville Police on operational matters on Bougainville, while five New Zealand police under Bougainville assistant commissioner Joe Bemu, focus on village policing from bases at Buka and Arawa.

The Bougainville Peace Agreement spells out that no police on the island, whether Bougainville, Australian or New Zealand, will be armed.

The Bougainville Governor, John Momis, says removing the roadblock is the responsibility of the police -- both Australian and Bougainville -- but they appear reluctant because they're not armed.

The team leader for the New Zealand police on Bougainville, Superintendent Athol Soper, says the roadblock at Aropa must be removed if forthcoming elections are to go smoothly.

He says he hopes arms will not be needed.

"It's difficult for the Bougainville police to act under these circumstances because they are not armed and the offenders they are dealing with are always armed. So that is a clear difficulty and the commissioner at the moment prefers to negotiate rather than use force. And my belief is that is the right course of action for the moment."

Superintendent Athol Soper.