Radio Free Bougainville

This article was originally published in DX Ontario, October 1992, by the Ontario DX Association, and appears with the kind permission of the ODXA and David M. Clark. It now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on radiodx.com for a period of five years from September 1 2000. Author: David M. Clark

Bougainville is the main island of the North Solomons group which, as the name implies, is not related geographically or ethnically to the rest of the islands of Papua New Guinea; and so, the inclusion of the the North Solomons as a province of PNG might be characterized as a colonial “accident”. The international boundary with the Solomons is just a stone’s throw off the southeast coast of Bougainville Island.

Here’s a backgrounder to the origins of Radio Free Bougainville, which I should think, regardless of one’s sympathies, must properly be considered a clandestine operation at this time:

“IARN GETS MEDICINE TO BOUGAINVILLE THROUGH NEW GUINEA BLOCKADE”

Bougainville is a 130-mile long island with 160,000 citizens, northeast of Australia, between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Bougainville was so named by the French Explorer Louis de Bougainville who first sighted the island in 1768. It was later annexed by the German New Guinea Company as part of their holdings. After the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the German territories, collectively termed New Guinea, became a part of the League of Nations Mandate and were placed under Australian administration. At this stage, Bougainville’s leaders began to speak out against being held as a separate entity from their traditional brothers in the Solomons.

In 1968, elections were held throughout the territory for self government, and the leaders so elected from Bougainville immediately called for a referendum on seccession. The matter came to a head in 1975 when Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia. Once again, the people of Bougainville made it known that they did not wish to join the new nation. They appealed to the United Nations without result. Negotiations by Bougainville leaders resulted in an agreement for ‘limited autonomy’.

The main industry in Bougainville is gold mining which Papua New Guinea exploits without returning much to the people on the island. Bougainvillians do not share the same culture as Papau New Guinea; they are a different people with different values. Much fighting has taken place over the years.

On March 1, 1990, Papua New Guinea agreed to a ceasefire, withdrawing all armed forces, induding the police. They paid off the public servants and then began to suspend all services to the island. They imposed a blockade on April 23, 1990 and then made plans to invade.

On May 17, 1990, Francis Ona, President of the Republic of Bougainville, issued a unilateral declaration of independence. In August, 1990, the New Zealand government offered to supply three naval vessels for the purpose of holding peace talks between the Bougainville and PNG govemments. At these talks it was agreed that no troops or police from Papua New Guinea would return to the island pending further negotiations. PNG has violated this agreement, and problems have continued up to the time that IARN was asked to help by President Ona. IARN’s objective is strictly humanitarian; namely providing communications and emergency medical supplies.

The International Amateur Radio Network was asked by the Republic of Bougainville Interim Government to assist with restoring emergency communications to the island. IARN responded by sending our representative, Sarn Voron (VK2BVS) from Sydney Australia to assess the situation in November, 1991. Sam is IARN Coordinator for lTU Region 3. Mr. Voron went home to Sydney, and then returned to Bougainville on December 1, 1991 carrying over $6,000 worth of IARN amateur radio equipment which ‘got lost’ in transit.

On December 3, 1991, Mr. Voron was issued Bougainville Amateur Radio licence number 1 by the Bougainville Interim Government. On December 11, 1991 Mr. Voron was issued papers authorizing him to grant other amateur licenses and conduct amateur license test examinations. Mr. Voron, in effect, became the Bougainville ‘Federal Communications Commission’. Then on December 31, 1991, IARN signed the ‘Radio Free Bougainville Perpetual Charter Agreement’ with the interim government. On January 22, 1992, Radio Free Bougainville came on the air for daily broadcasts which are causing much interest and attracting world wide listeners on the international short wave bands.

Also, amateur radio station C1A was operated between January 22, 1992 and February 7, 1992, heard and talked to by radio amateurs “all over the world.”

Here’s an illustration (front and back) of a rare C1A QSL card received by John Leary, a friend of John Bryant and myself – sorry for the poor reproduction!

On the face of the card, Sam Voron states: “Since Jan. 25th, 1992, RFB has transmitted daily and continues on 3.880 MHz, 0800-1100 UTC in [local] p.m.” Partially masked by thc air mail sticker is a note that he has received SWL reports from the U.S. and Canada.

On February 3, 1992, Papua New Guinea security forces began directing mortar bombs and machine gun fire at the island and also attempted a landing which was repelled.

Sam Voron returned to Sydney, Australia on February 8, 1992 and began organizing a relief operation to get desperately needed medical supplies to Arawa hospital in Bougainville where children, women and men are dying of ordinary diseases such as meningitis. Radio Free Bougainville is issuing desperate pleas for medicine on a daily basis. The Papua New Guinea government has issued press releases to the effect that there was no need for medical supplies at Arawa hospital, so IARN made arrangements for a news team from Sydney Channel 7 ‘Current Affair’ to be smuggled into Bougainville. They arrived February 27, 1992 and confirmed that Arawa hospital didn’t have as much as one aspirin. They returned after one day and their story aired in Sydney on March 9, 1992. On March 1, 1992, IARN sent a volunteer to Bougainville with over 100 kilograms of medical supplies which have been safely delivered.

On the diplomatic front, Bougainville has not been recognized by the United Nations, but has been accepted for membership in UNPO, an alternate organization, with other members including Lithuania and Latvia. In the United States, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is looking into the matter as a favor to IARN, and there have been recent press reports that the U.N. Security Council will vote soon with regard to the PNG blockade. On February 10, 1992, IARN Manager, Glenn Baxter invoked the assistance of George Mitchell and provided the U.S. State Department with copies of all relevant Bougainville/IARN documents.

In Australia, Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Gareth Evans says that criminal charges against Voron under the Foreign Incursions Act are being considered. Others have accused Voron of being a terrorist.

IARN Manager Glenn Baxter, in the United States, said in a statement: “We don’t consider providing emergency communications and emergency medical supplies an act of terrorism. We are radio amateurs responding to a simple and legitimate request for help. We will deal with the politicians by exposing their real agenda to the world community and then take our case to the people. The mass media are behind us, and we are clearly saving lives in this daring effort.” (excerpted from Intemational Amateur Radio Network Newsletter – March 1992, copies of which were forwarded by John Bryant and Gordon Darling).

Radio Free Bougainville is scheduled 0800-1100 daily (sometimes running later) on 3880 kHz, using about 600 watts in AM mode. There is an English newscast scheduled at 1000. The sign-off routine includes announcements in both English and Pidgin, followed by a choral anthem. Here’s the QSL address: c/o Intemational Amateur Radio Club of Sydney, 2 Griffith Ave., East Roseville, NSW, Australia.

Note that prior to the secessionist movement, the NBC station, Radio North Solomons operated from Kieta on 3325 (now broadcast via a transmitter at Rabaul). In that context, Bougainville Island was already classified as a separate “radio country”. This means that even if formal independence from Papua New Guinea should materialize, this would not result in a new (additional) radio country. As for all ‘PNG’ signals on the Tropical Bands, DXers should look for Radio Free Bougainville signals to peak during the sunrise period at the receiver.

Thanks to John Bryant and Gordon Darling who forwarded copies of the IARN Newsletter and to John Leary who loaned me the original of his prized QSL from Sam Voron, operating as C1A. Thanks also to Gerry Dexter’s Clandestine Confidential Newsletter for the QSL address for Radio Free Bougainville.

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