"Remembering Vanuatu's Declaration of Independence 40 year’s on."
40 year’s ago, on this day, July 30th 1980, heroes were made, after Papua New Guinea’s Defence force single handedly and strategically over threw a rebellion in Vanuatu on Espiritu Santo Island.
New Hebrides as it was known then was a condominium ruled by Colonial powers French and Britain in the eighteenth century shortly after the arrival of Captain James Cook. In 1975 they created a joint administration of both local and European officials, and some powers were devolved to an elected assembly. However, as independence approached, there was an armed uprising against the plans and a bid for secession on Espiritu Santo Island, led by Jimmy Stevens, a nationalist and politician. Stevens was the leader of what they called the Nagriamel movement. He had declared the independence of Espiritu Santo and apparently started to refer to himself as Prime Minister.
The New Hebrides government solicited support from Britain and France, asking for troops to be sent in to put an end to the armed rebellion but France did not want the United Kingdom to deploy troops. Even Australia and New Zealand did not want to interfere due to their relationships with the British and French Governments.
With no where else to turn to Prime Minister elect Walter Lini looked to Melanesian brother and then Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Sir Julius Chan for help. In his book playing the game Sir J recalls, “ We had planned to attend the South Pacific Forum meeting in Kiribati. I was flying in on the government aircraft, so I asked the commander of the PNG Defence Force ( PNGDF ), Ted Diro, to come with me and join the discussion.”
General Diro was sent to determine the situation on the ground and later gave his military advice to Sir J. From his advice a planned execution to take back Espiritu Santo from the rebel forces and the strong French presence was set into motion. The Kumul Force launched Operation Wantok Durua ( Halivim Wantok ).
On August 5, the National Parliament met in a special sitting (in the old Parliament House in town) to debate the deployment of troops. Only two members from that Parliament remain in office — Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare who was then Opposition leader and Member for Bouganville Regional John Momis, who was the Minister for Decentralization in the Chan/Okuk government. Sir Tore Lokoloko was the Governor General at the time.
Sir Michael was opposed to the deployment. He told Parliament the Defence Force had acted illegally in sending troops overseas without Parliament’s approval.
"These troops are there now. They are sitting in Vanuatu. They are already practicing operational manoeuvres," Sir Michael said. "They are there despite the National Constitution saying quite clearly prior approval of Parliament must be given."
Defence Minister Gerega Pepena told Parliament the initial deployment of 300 troops to restore law and order in Vanuatu would cost K750,000.
After three days of heated debate, Parliament voted 55 to 40 to send our troops on their first overseas assignment.
That was 40 year’s ago today. A successful story for Papua New Guinea and one that current New Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan holds at the pinnacle of many of his political achievements. The New Ireland Government Media Unit as a matter of courtesy to an old friend was asked by Sir J to call retired General Ted Diro yesterday ( Wednesday 29th July, 2020) and ask him about his thoughts on Vanuatu as the Pacific neighbour celebrates its 40th Independence. He for the first time revealed some of the more intricate details of how he led PNG’s jungle fighter’s to victory without losing one single soldier.
“ I attribute the victory in Vanuatu to Sir Julius Chan only. We were just the soldiers doing our job. Without him being at the helm of Papua New Guinea at that time we would have failed Vanuatu.
“We had to prepare to free up Espiritu Santo Island. So that the country could be united under one umbrella and one country. That was our task but the propaganda was so strong and to make matters worse the white American association was supporting the French. So, we were expecting a much bigger fight then what we got,” said General Diro.
Espiritu Santo Island located North of Vanuatu is the richest and the most agriculturally productive part of the country. Earning more export then the other Islands. Which was one of the main reasons why the rebels and the French still wanted control over it.
“The principle in Gorilla Warfare was that you don’t talk too much about it, you just tell the troops what we are going to do and do it. Leave the gossiping and all other stories aside. So that was what we did. It took eight weeks in which to convert the aircraft captains and also the ship captain’s into Papua New Guineans, fully localized, it had to be seen as a Papua New Guinea only effort.
“We went there as truly Papua New Guineans. I must mention that one warrant officer who was engaged with catering defied orders and instructions and said “hey I’m going to go with the troops.” so he came with us.
Having done his homework and background check, General Diro said he had good intelligence information about the country's geographical features and demographic. Single handedly training the troops in rapid fire shooting range and combat indoctrination. His two main confidents were Lieutenant Colonel Tony Huai from Kairuru and military assistant Major Leo Niuai from Rabaul. Both men have since climbed up the ranks to become commanders. “Much of the strategy and planning that we undertook was more like desert storm in Iraq.”
“ When we went to Santo, still under the control of the French, I instructed the contingent not to ask any questions, because in raising questions you can accidently, disclose your intentions. After the briefing I said there would be no questions from the PNG side. The French and British were stunned that I acted this way. I had a reason for it. I knew more than probably what they did. Including the American connection.
“ Only the super soldiers could go, you could see soldiers that were not selected on the side crying because they wanted to go. This showed a measure of courage, discipline and the commitment that the troops had for me, at that particular time. It was training of such a nature, they synchronized their rifles together with their eye sights, together with their physical strengths, everything was so well co ordinated. What they saw, was what they shot at, and these are the kind of things that we prepare for in battle indoctrination and battle forming. We achieved all that on the ground.
“ I recall arriving on Santos around 10am, at 11 one of my soldiers guarding the Vietnamese restaurant was attacked by a bus load of rebels. His training and indoctrination came to bear at that very moment. When they attacked him he didn’t run away and look for cover, he stood his ground and the decision was that who ever was operating alone must be equipped with automatic fire weapon system so he was able to control and neutralize that entire busload of rebels. So that was the level of bravery and military combat carried out by that single soldier on the day of our arrival there.
“ It caused the Vanuatu Government to say that the PNG DF troops had in the last 24 hours achieved more than the British and French achieved in the last 6 months. On the second night about 9 white French men attacked our standing patrol. 5 soldiers, guarding the entrance to the town, and to the water and power stations. They were carrying a high powered torch and they lit up our soldiers with the torch. When one of our soldiers said good night wantok they opened fire on them. Our troops responded immediately wounding some of them, we don’t know whether anyone of them got killed or not. But we went across to the French hospital and from 9pm to 2 in the morning they arrived at the hospital. We questioned where they were coming from? They said they were in vehicle accident, but we refused that explanation and told them they were involved in the shooting. The next day the rebels we’re defeated, that single action caused their down fall. They thought that it would be like an African experience, where the troops would run when they were fired upon. The next day the big French Airplanes turned up to load all their citizens from Espiritu Santos to New Caledonia.
“It was a well orchestrated operation, we put an end to it in four days, after we launched the operation at Santo. We were told to arrive at 2pm in the afternoon but we arrived at 6am in the morning to achieve the element of surprise and to cut off any ships that were trying to land at Santo organized by the American component. My team was well trained. Out of the 120 people that went to the firing range I selected only 20 members of the troops, because my instructions from Prime Minister Chan was “there was not to be any dead bodies or body bags to be taken back to the Jacksons airport.
When it all ended in about October/ November of 1980, the military had achieved the following goals:
They put down the rebellion that threatened the stability of Vanuatu; Restored the authority of the government of Vanuatu; Helped formed and trained scores of new recruits for the newly formed Vanuatu mobile force that would take over from them; and Returned home without any major casualties.
“The Airmen and Army who took part should be remembered during our remberance day celebrations.”
General Ted Diro is urging the PNG Government to prioritize Remembrance Day and for the current PNG Defence force Administration to lift up its game.
“Remembrance Day means a lot to me, even though I didn’t take part in the last war. It means hell of a lot to me. I remember the troops and the Air men, the Navy guys, Police, and the Defence force, who lost their lives on our own soil at Bougainville, roughly 130 lives were lost in the Bougainville crises. These people ought to be remembered one day in a year. But unfortunately our defence headquarters is dysfunctional. I’m sorry to say that but I can’t hide the truth. The defence force is dysfunctional, this is the view of the 5 retired generals who are still alive. We have a small organization that comprises of ex combatants and we condemn the cancellation of Remembrance Day in Port Moresby this year.
“As we face the future our security is important, the nature of War has changed and is changing but it still boils down to human beings sacrificing and committing themselves in the cause of defence for our country and we ought to remember them on this special occasion.
“And I want to end by saying that Sir Julius Chan understood the principles of war, when we asked for anything it was there. The success of logistics , the success of planning and the cool headedness resulted in the formation of the country Vanuatu. I’m privileged to have served under Sir Julius at the time of troubles in the Pacific.”
After the re-uniting of Vanuatu it was decided that a different and more peaceful approach had to be taken in the future when dealing with conflicts within the Pacific. This was the idea of the Regional peace keeping Force resulting in the formation of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands ( RAMSI) formed many years after the Vanuatu crises.
The Australians did not show much interest at first but following PNG's resolutions in the Pacific Islands Secretariat in 2003 when Sir J was Chairman of a 5 men Eminent persons Group advised for softer and milder Assistance.
But the concept was PNG made and was reintroduced again when Sir J was PNG PM. Appointed Troops were drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji to bring peace to Bougainville. The force was deployed between 4th and 21st of October 1994 before being withdrawn. Further peacekeeping troops were deployed to the island of Bougainville in 1997 as part of the Truce Monitoring Group.