PNG MILITARY HEADQUARTERS DESTROYED IN ARSON ATTACK

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 27, 1998 - Radio Australia)--- A major investigation is underway in Papua New Guinea, after the Taurama military headquarters burned to the ground.

The barracks, near Port Moresby, are home to the First Royal Pacific Island Regiment of the PNG Defense Force.

PNG Opposition leader Bernard Narokobi claims the incident could be a negative reaction to the recent reappointment of Brigadier General Jerry Singirok as Commander of the country's military units.

General Singirok led an army revolt to evict Sandline mercenaries from PNG last year.

Mr. Narokobi says Prime Minister Bill Skate should be held totally responsible for destruction of the headquarters and the current instability within the Defense Force as a result of General Singirok's appointment.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

PNG DEFENSE FORCE REGIMENTAL HEADQUARTERS GUTTED

By Neville Togarewa and Cyril Gare

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 27, 1998 - The National)---The headquarters of the First Royal Pacific Island Regiment (1RPIR) here at Taurama Barracks was gutted by fire early yesterday.

The cause of the fire is yet to be established but Prime Minister Bill Skate told reporters at Government House that it could have been caused by an electrical fault or deliberately set.

However, Opposition Leader Bernard Narokobi told a media conference at Parliament House later in the day that the fire was deliberate and was related to the National Executive Council decision to reappoint disgraced commander Jerry Singirok last week.

Mr. Skate said he was told of the fire early in the morning and was expecting a detailed briefing from Brig. Gen. Singirok later in the evening.

Brig. Gen. Singirok and his staff officers from the Defense Force headquarters at Murray Barracks moved quickly and directed the acting commander of 1RPIR, Major Michael Kumin, to conduct a preliminary investigation and report back at the end of the day.

In the meantime, staff officers were yesterday drafting terms of reference for a full investigation headed by a senior officer which should get underway tomorrow or Thursday, according to chief of staff, Colonel David Takendu.

He said officers from the Fire Service as well as Police CID went to the scene in the morning to do their own preliminary investigation and help establish the cause of the fire.

"At the moment, we cannot say how the fire started. There are several possibilities but we are waiting for the full investigation to be carried out," Col. Takendu told The National.

He said the destroyed building had "historical significance" for the Defense Force.

"It's a 1950s building of the PIR which was of a historical significance to the PNGDF. It contained historical records and photographs of the commanders of the PNGDF and commanding officers of the regiment," Col. Takendu said.

"It's hard to quantify the value of the building and its historical contents. For us - the officers and men of the PNGDF - it's a significant loss."

Fortunately, the regimental colors were kept at the Officers Mess and are safe.

At Parliament House, Mr. Narokobi claimed that the military was now more unstable than ever before following Gen. Singirok's reappointment.

Mr. Narokobi said intelligence reports indicated that petrol was poured around the building and then it was set on fire.

"It was only yesterday that I warned of serious instability in the military. This all stems from the Prime Minister's irrational decisions in the past two weeks. Mr. Skate must now accept full responsibility for the consequences of his actions," Mr. Narokobi said.

"Military institutions are the pride of our nation. They have taken many years to build up. In fact, the military institutions were a gift from the people and Government of Australia to us at Independence. It is tragic that the pride of our nation should be scandalized and vandalized."

In a statement last night, Defense Minister Peter Waieng condemned Mr. Narokobi's comments, saying the Opposition leader was using an unfortunate incident for political point-scoring.

"The fire at the store house has destroyed a number of historical documents and is a great loss, but to blame the Prime Minister is totally uncalled for," said Mr. Waieng.

"Until a cause has been established it is foolish for anyone to be making political gains from the fire. This is a 46-year-old wooden building and like any other run-down colonial building in our military establishments, electrical faults and other technical faults due to lack of maintenance are very common."

Mr. Waieng said the morale and unity in the Defense Force had risen considerably since the appointment of Brig. Gen. Singirok.

He said four different independent authorities were investigating the fire.

"Until these reports are produced it is not the duty of politicians to politicize this incident," he said.

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

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