SINGIROK BACK AS PNG PM SKATE FIRES NUIA AS DEFENSE FORCE CHIEF

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By Isaac Nichols

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 15, 1998 - The National)--- Brigadier General Jerry Singirok yesterday was re-appointed commander of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF).

Brig. Gen. Singirok, who engineered the expulsion of the Sandline International personnel from PNG soil last March, replaces Brigadier General Leo Nuia.

Prime Minister Bill Skate said the decision was in the best interest of PNG and was especially important at the time when confidence and morale within the Defense Force had dropped to critical levels.

"On the issue of morale and in several key areas, the outgoing commander (Nuia) had failed to deal effectively with the many important issues affecting the internal security of our nation," Mr. Skate said.

He said Brig. Gen. Nuia had failed to furnish a report on the armory break-ins and was not cooperating with the Government.

The Prime Minister said Brig. Gen. Singirok had no intention of taking over the Government when he called for the resignation of the then Prime Minister and that this has been the finding of the second Sandline Commission of Inquiry.

"The commission found that the Operation Rausim Kwik orders speak for themselves in that the Sandline contract was to be terminated," he said.

"The commission has exonerated Brig. Gen. Singirok of any seditious act or conduct.

"As Prime Minister I firmly believe the action taken by the former commander to remove the Sandline mercenaries on 17 March 1997 prevented the slaughter of many innocent Papua New Guineans on Bougainville."

A sedition charge against General Singirok prepared by the former Attorney General Sao Gabi is pending.

Mr. Skate said the action taken by Brig. Gen. Singirok to save lives on Bougainville was one of the most commendable and heroic actions ever taken by a civil servant in the history of Papua New Guinea.

"Commander Singirok was able to stand up to the overbearing political pressures for the common good and welfare of our young and vibrant nation," said Mr. Skate.

He said the action of Brig. Gen. Singirok in ending the mercenaries activities had saved the State in excess of K 50 million (US$ 22.48 million).

Regarding the allegations of improper payments from arms dealer J S Franklin, the Los Inquiry found that there was an improper payment to Brig. Gen. Singirok.

"However, I consider that there are mitigating circumstances and I am satisfied that within these circumstances the payments were not criminally corrupt," the Prime Minister said.

Mr. Skate said Brig. Gen. Singirok's re-appointment as the commander of PNGDF would automatically subject him to the provisions of the Leadership Code and the full judicial system.

He said it would be the Ombudsman Commission's prerogative to investigate Brig. Gen. Singirok on the issue of the improper payments if this action is deemed necessary.

Brig. Gen. Singirok said that he would establish a reconciliation committee that would bring the conflicting parties together in the Defense Force.

"Those soldiers who have been against me are forgiven," Brig. Gen. Singirok said.

He said his priority was to meet the basic needs of the soldiers like food, leave entitlements and allowances. He said his second priority was to bring all Defense Force members together for reconciliation.

He said his experience was an example to every other departmental head and bureaucrat that "we are all accountable" to the people for whatever actions we take.

"I deny any corrupt payment and bribery," he said.

"You want to know Jerry Singirok's accounts, they are on the table."

He said he will fully co-operate with any investigation into the issue.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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