Forwarded from Alan Bradley (Papua New Guinea)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Mar 20 17:14:21 MST 2001


[I am bending the rules somewhat on crossposting from the web since Alan,
who has not been subbed to the list because of cash problems, might not be
aware of the new rule and because he describes it as having some urgency.]

Hi Louis,

I think the stuff below is important enough for me to ask you to forward it
to the list. I am using a relative's email account.  Please do not put its
address on the list.

Alan Bradley

-------------------------------

>From the Courier-Mail (Brisbane Murdoch daily)
(http://www.thecouriermail.com.au):

Aussie troops on alert for PNG rescue mission Ian McPhedran and AAP 21mar01

AUSTRALIAN combat troops are ready to go to Papua New Guinea to rescue
thousands of expatriates if law and order breaks down.

Troops from a Townsville-based brigade are believed to be on alert and can
move at 24 hours notice. Mutinous Papua New Guinea soldiers rioted
yesterday when Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta failed to turn up for a
face-to-face meeting with troops over defence force reforms.

Last night Sir Mekere, under growing pressure to address soldiers' anger
over plans to cut army numbers, promised an amnesty for rebel troops
challenging his government.

Yesterday's riot began after about 400 soldiers gathered at Port Moresby's
Murray Barracks after demanding a meeting to present Sir Mekere with a
petition.

It was hoped the meeting would defuse a six-day rebellion by heavily armed
troops who had raided an armoury at the barracks.

But when Defence Minister Kilroy Genia mounted a dais on the barracks
sports ground and soldiers realised Sir Mekere was absent, the mood turned
ugly.

Soldiers shouted abuse, chanted "the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister",
and surged across the field.

They charged the podium, brandishing their fists, tearing down the canvas
shading and kicking over chairs.

The first soldier to arrive grabbed an officer's public address system and
smashed it. Journalists and bystanders were attacked and military police
quickly herded them out of the barracks for their own safety.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer played down suggestions
Australia should use force to protect PNG's constitution and Sir Mekere's
Government.

Mr Downer said PNG had not asked for any help.

"The Papua New Guinea Government has asked us for nothing but it is
important that we leave a message," Mr Downer said. "And that is that we're
watching these events very closely and so is the international community.

"It would be enormously provocative and very dangerous and completely to
the detriment of Papua New Guinea if any soldiers were to take action which
was unconstitutional."

Australian defence sources said there were serious concerns rebel actions
could get out of hand.

"If the (PNG) Government was threatened we would be the country the world
would look at to act," a source said. "If there was anarchy we would have
to do something. It is not acceptable to let it go down the drain."

PNG was taken to the brink in 1997 during the so-called Sandline mercenary
crisis when the military commander, Brigadier Jerry Singirok, defied orders
to support mercenaries on Bougainville.

About 10,000 Australians live in PNG, where pressure is building against
"outside influences" in the wake of the aborted plan to reform the defence
force.

The plan, drawn up by a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group but later
scuttled by Sir Mekere, had called for the military to be cut in half to
1900 well trained soldiers.

Australia would have played a crucial role in funding and training the
troops and it is believed last week's mutiny was driven by rumours of an
Australian "invasion".

-------------------------------

>From the Post-Courier (Port Moresby Murdoch daily)
(http://www.postcourier.com.pg):

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Soldiers ire at no show

SOLDIERS angered by the Prime Minister's no show at Murray Barracks to
receive their petition temporarily disrupted the ceremony by pulling down
the dais, tent and seizing the amplifier.

A military police staff sustained a minor injury to the bridge of his nose
while several reporters were temporarily chased to stop them recording the
soldiers' frustrations during the melee.

ABC news crew stated that a television tape was confiscated and Australian
Associated Press' Kevin Ricketts was punched in the throat and kicked in
the thigh.

The tent fell on Defence Minister Kilroy Genia, Acting Defence Force
Commander Brigadier General Carl Marlpo and Defence Secretary John Vulupindi.

"If the Prime Minister had turned up this afternoon we would not have had
this problem. All it needed was half and an hour of tolerance on the stage
and he would have walked out of here a winner. It's a win, win situation
for everybody,'' a senior unit commander said.

The soldiers' spokesman said they had reacted angrily because they did not
want to deliver their petition to the Defence Minister. In a statement from
the Prime Minister's office yesterday, Sir Mekere said the Cabinet had
authorised the Defence Minister to meet the soldiers and accept their
petition.

"The Minister is under strict instructions to submit the soldier's petition
to Cabinet once he receives it," Sir Mekere said. More than 1000 people,
including uniformed soldiers from Goldie River, Murray and Taurama barracks
and their families had turned up at the Murray Barracks oval expecting Sir
Mekere.

At around 1.30pm Mr Genia, General Marlpo and Mr Vulupindi arrived at the
oval escorted by senior defence force officers and the soldiers' spokesmen
towards a small dais covered with red carpet.

Defence Force Chief of Staff Colonel David Takendu then invited the
soldiers ' spokesman to present the petition to Mr Genia. The soldiers
disrupted Colonel Takendu and rowdily demanded the presence of Sir Mekere.

Some shouted: "No way we want the Prime Minister to receive the petition.''
The soldiers shouted down Colonel Takendu and then rushed the dais. More
stories inside.

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Morauta grants amnesty

PRIME Minister Sir Mekere Morauta yesterday announced that no action
whatsoever would be taken against soldiers who instigated the current
stand-off.

"I give my guarantee to all in the Defence Force that there is an amnesty,"
said Sir Mekere in a statement yesterday. Sir Mekere and the National
Executive Council had revoked the decision to implement sweeping reform,
which range from a halving the Defence Force staff to 1900 to sale of assets.

But despite NEC and Sir Mekere's relent on the reform, the soldiers have
not handed back arms, ammunition and keys to at least the Murray Barracks
Supply Company armory.

Sir Mekere reiterated his view that lack of communication with the soldiers
had led to their unhappiness. He said that the Government shouldered
responsibility for that.

"Cabinet's ratification yesterday (Monday) of my decision not to proceed
with implementation was in recognition of the lack of communication with
the rank and file. The lesson is that in future the Defence Force would be
intimately consulted and involved in assessing any developments for the
force," he said.

Sir Mekere made it clear the Cabinet yesterday authorised the Minister for
Defence to meet the soldiers and accept their petition to the Government.

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Presentation will be orderly - army

DEFENCE Force chief of operations Colonel Ben Norrie says that today's
meeting to deliver the soldiers' petition to the Prime Minister will be
orderly, as it will be on the Murray Barracks parade ground. "It will be
orderly in the parade grounds. We will have people in the units and in
their ranks so it will be easier that way," Colonel Norrie said.

The Post-Courier was unable to confirm whether Sir Mekere Morauta will
receive the petition in person.

A senior Defence officer said yesterday that unit commanders had spent many
sleepless nights trying to bring the disgruntled soldiers under control
over the last two weeks.

"They will not do what we want. We have to do what they want but in a
controlled manner," he said.

"If the Prime Minister had turned up this afternoon. We would not have had
this problem. All it needed was half an hour of tolerance up on the stage,
and he would have walked out of here a winner. It's a win-win situation for
everybody.

"Their demand was put to the Minister and the commander yesterday by their
spokespersons. That was very clear. They said we want nobody else but the
Prime Minister himself to come in person and receive our petition." The
soldiers' spokesmen confirmed this and said that yesterday rowdy scene
would not have happened if Sir Mekere was present. Meanwhile the Prime
Minister last night said he was disgusted with NBC and NauFM news reports
that he would be present at yesterday's petition presentation in Murray
Barracks.

"These two radio stations should broadcast a message of apology to the
nation starting from tomorrow morning and continuing throughout the day,"
he said.

Sir Mekere added that he wanted "an immediate and full explanation" and had
directed the Communications Minister to investigate.

NBC chief editor Joseph Ealedona last night said: "Our news service will
run what is credible and factual as it has always done."

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Soldiers 'for the people'

SOLDIERS spokesmen yesterday told the civilians who gathered to witness the
presentation of their petition that "they were for the people" and not to
be afraid of guns.

One of the spokesman said that guns were part of their outfit, like
uniforms, and it was not their intention to harm civilians whom they were
constitutionally tasked to protect.

He said soldiers were usually required "to obey orders" but they had
responded this way because they were concerned about the people. "We are
not thinking of ourselves. If we were, we would consider this as an
opportunity to get our payout and go home. But we are concerned about you,"
he said.

Later when it became obvious that the Prime Minister would not be there in
person to receive the petition the soldiers become restless and frustrated
(see other story).

"The men would like the Prime Minister to come and receive the petition
himself," the spokesmen told Defence Minister Kilroy Genia.

When the spokesman, following consultation with Mr Genia, asked the
soldiers and crowd for guarantee that they would be orderly if the Prime
Minister came, one soldier said: "The Prime Minister belongs to this
country. He must come and address the people here, right now."

Another yelled: "We are his people. There is no reason for him to be afraid."

"The scene you have witnessed is because he (Sir Mekere) is not here
today," they said referring to the pulling down of the tent and the
throwing of the amplifiers.

Students turn back

UNIVERSITY of Papua New Guinea students who went to the Prime Minister's
state residence yesterday to present a petition to Sir Mekere Morauta were
turned away.

Central/NCD police commander Tom Kulunga said five busloads of students
were turned away because no one was there to receive the petition.
Meanwhile, the National Council of Women is also planning to present a
petition to the Prime Minister today.

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Turmoil triggers drop in stocks

PNG related stocks continue to trade at very high discounted rates because
risk factors such as the disturbances at Mur-ray Barracks are factored into
their prices, says local broker Kina Securities.

Group general manager Syd Yates said it was difficult to say whether the
downfall was all related to the recent events as most of the PNG related
stocks have been at low prices.

"Our stocks will always be susceptible to the country risks,'' Mr Yates said.

"There have previously been big drops every time something happens or a
politician says something, basically there is no confidence at all.

"The markets are used to the volatility of PNG and that's why the share
prices are not as good as they should be, trading at huge discounts
be-cause of the country risk factor.''

The worst hit stock yesterday was Orogen Minerals Ltd, in which the State
has a 51 per cent majority stake.

Its share price dropped by five cents, with total turn over of 219,754
shares changing hands.

Lihir Gold was the only PNG stock which bucked the trend, closing three
cents higher at A67 cents, with 3.3 million shares changing hands during
the day. Oil Search closed two cents lower at $A1.42 per share with total
turnover of 294,700 shares while Highlands Pacific closed one cent lower at
10 cents with 182,800 share changing hands.

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------
Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Pledge by battalion

MEMBERS of Defence Force's engineering battalion, based at Igam Barracks
near Lae, have pledged to remain loyal to their country despite the
controversies over the implementation of the reform.

Head of the battalion, Lt Col Verave Mae, assured Morobe Governor Luther
Wenge that his men would remain professional at all times. Lt Col Mae said
this when he paid a courtesy call on Mr Wenge on Monday. He said he was
shocked when he learned that the engineering battalion was to disbanded
under the reform but said that would not deter his men from performing
their duties.

Mr Wenge commended the battalion for their commitment and professional ethics.

"Your undertaking shows your commitment to your country as servicemen," the
Governor said.

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.

-------------------------------

Wednesday 21st March, 2001

Revolt at Murray Barracks a plea for help

THE latest revolt by Papua New Guinea soldiers seems more a cry for help
than a precursor to an armed coup. Like most other PNG citizens struggling
on a basic wage of 60 cents an hour, the soldiers are preoccupied with the
everyday difficulties of life in the third world - having a job, keeping
it, and feeding the family. Unlike other citizens, they have ready access
to guns, and last week 300 soldiers helped themselves from poorly-secured
armories in Port Moresby. The soldiers see themselves as victims of outside
interference. Under threat of losing their jobs following a Commonwealth
recommendation that the PNG Defence Force halve its numbers to 1900, the
soldiers reacted in the way they knew best.

Now they are holding a gun at the government's head not for constitutional
change - like their Melanesian brethren in Fiji - but for the simple
security of keeping their jobs.

Sir Mekere Morauta's Government is under severe pressure from the outside
world to reform a moribund economy.

That means cutting down a bloated public service, privatising utilities
like power, telecommunications and water, and general belt-tightening all
round. For these burdens, the ordinary people are blaming Sir Mekere and
his alleged buckling to the orders of the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund and "Big Brother" Australia, PNG's colonial master until
independence 25 years ago.

In fact, Sir Mekere had little choice. When he took over government 19
months ago, the country was economically on its knees. The World Bank and
the IMF promised about $US200 million in soft loans - but at a price. Sir
Mekere duly mapped out a reform program of privatisation, a crackdown on
public service corruption and better roads, education and health services.
Alone, these demanded changes were bad enough for grass roots employees
fearful of their livelihoods and corrupt MPs fearful of losing their "slush
funds".

Then three things happened in rapid succession late last year to rock the
whole shaky edifice of reconstruction.

First, the Government rejected out of hand a recommendation from the
supposedly independent Minimum Wages Board that the basic wage be lifted
160 per cent from its base, last set in 1992.

It realised that recession-hit employers, especially on the cocoa, copra
and coffee plantations, could not afford it without shedding workers.
Meanwhile, it emerged that the equally-independent Salaries and
Remuneration Commission had boosted the base salary of MPs, judges and
public service department heads by between 33 and 100 per cent.

Sir Mekere, whose own pay would have doubled to K165,000 a year said the
SRC adjudication was "against the national interest" and also rejected it.
The catch was SRC decisions on MPs' pay can only be overridden by
Parliament - and Parliament won't be meeting until July this year. In the
meantime, MPs are collecting their windfall. The third shock came when the
Government accepted a recommendation from a Commonwealth Eminent Persons
Group to halve numbers in the PNGDF. Add to that a rumor that airborne
Australian troops were about to land in Port Moresby to take over the
PNGDF's Murray Barracks headquarters, and the situation became explosive.

Sir Mekere has since agreed to drop plans to cut troop numbers, but the
soldiers remain suspicious. The worry for PNG is that the army set a
precedent for mutiny in 1997 when it succeeded in ousting the Sandline
mercenaries - and indirectly, then prime minister Sir Julius Chan.

The soldiers may still see themselves as PNG's last line of salvation.

KEVIN RICKETTS, AAP

Copyright, 1999, Post-Courier Online. Use of this site is governed by our
Legal Notice.


Louis Proyect
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