PNG'S SINGIROK FOR PEACE ON BOUGAINVILLE AND A BETTER DEFENSE FORCE

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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 23, 1998 - The Independent)---Papua New Guinea's new Defense Force Commander Brigadier General Jerry Singirok returned yesterday from the Peace Process Consultative Committee (PPCC) meeting in Buka.

Reinstated to the post last week by the Skate government, Commander Singirok announced that he would push strongly for reconciliation of the Defense Force and peace on Bougainville.

Although he has not yet been sworn in as the new commander, Mr. Singirok returned to Port Moresby where he repeated his stand on peace for Bougainville and the need for more assistance and reconciliation for the PNG Defense Force, all the while denouncing allegations the Defense Force hierarchy has political affiliations.

"There is no greater honor for a soldier than to save lives and protect in deed freedom for his people and for his country.

"When I was first appointed on 15 or 17 of November 1995 my first opening remark was that there was no military solution to Bougainville. Two years later, I still maintain that there is no military solution to Bougainville. Rather, military is part of the total solution on Bougainville," Brigadier General Singirok said at Jackson's airport yesterday. 

Bougainville

On the PPCC meeting in Bougainville, the commander committed the Defense Force to work with the Bougainvilleans in providing civic duties.

He commended the work by the national government, the Bougainville Interim government, the Bougainville Transitional Government, the efforts of the security forces and voiced his support for the peace efforts on the island.

"My arrival at Hutjena was very emotional because Sam Kauona had ensured that his wife, and that Joseph Kabui and his wife and all the members of the warring factions that I used to fight against in 1989 were all there to receive me with good heart.

"I praise God for the manner in which he has used many of us to bring ultimate peace and save the people and take them out of the bondage of what could have been a very serious catastrophe in Papua New Guinea.

"It was a very emotional get together with Mr. Kauona because the last time I met Kauona was 1988, and for ten years we have been on either side of the fence," he said, adding "For the efforts of everybody who supported me on March 17 of last year to expel foreigners out of this country so that freedom and peace can continue was finally confirmed by the fact that I had the privilege to meet Sam Kauona and his delegates on the negotiation table yesterday (Wednesday)."

The commander had talks with Bougainville premier Gerard Sinato, the BTG and they had all supported his peace initiatives for Bougainville.

"They are all looking forward for me to take the Defense Force, this time without weapons, but this time with soldiers with medical kits, with earth moving equipment so that we can bring restoration on Bougainville," Commander Singirok said.

Reforms for PNGDF

Brigadier General Singirok also met with soldiers on the island. While holding discussions with his soldiers on the island, the commander said he was able to gauge their views about problems that affected them personally.

"I did not make any commitment with my men but because I said would only be in office for a short while, I would look into their problems.

"I reassured them that I will promise them three good meals a day, good uniforms to wear, decent accommodation and I will ensure that my men will go on leave so that they can see their families which they have been separated from for many years," he said.

The commander said that for a long time, the Defense Force hierarchy had considered themselves a "privileged crowd" and had not been able to deliver proper management, direction, command and control.

He said the effects of a lack of decision making was being felt in the field.

"Therefore, I have organized that there will be a massive clean up in the Defense Force. Those officers with beer guts who are not fit will be tested immediately, those who have high blood pressure will also be tested immediately, and if they fail to pass medical standards, personal training standards, they will be removed from the Defense Force, but in an honorary manner," he announced, adding that while he had the opportunity, he wanted to clean up the Defense Force.

"I want to develop a Defense Force with a hierarchy that is highly responsive, effective and efficient in its management skills for the two customers we're serving, firstly the men, and secondly the people of Papua New Guinea," he said.

Singirok says he's not on a witch hunt

The Commander assured the Defense Force that he was not on a "witch hunt" and defended several decisions he had made in the past week.

"That seventeenth of March last year, a lot of people had broken the ranks and have questioned, put to the test the issue of loyalty. Questions such as "which side you're on", "who do you support?", "you come from this region" and I hope that my reconciliation program which is controlled by my chief of staff, would be put in place and every soldier comes and reconciles because this Defense Force belongs to the people of Papua New Guinea, and as the commander, I want one day for the people of Papua New Guinea to be proud of a very professional, highly disciplined Defense Force.

"I would like to reassure all members of the Defense Force that I am not on a witch hunt," Commander Singirok said explaining events in the PNGDF since he was reappointed commander.

"I have also seen news of the fact that there was a suspension of the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Pacific Islands Regiment.

"I would like to comment on the outset, that the allegations are serious relating to loss of weapons and security of weapons at Taurama barracks. The issue is being investigated at the moment by a senior officer, and as soon as the findings are brought forward I will address the Defense Council and senior officers of the findings," he explained.

He said the search of Captain Paul Kaliop had been legal and was on good grounds.

"The issues relating to the checking of Captain Kaliop's house are also related to security on which it was conducted in a very professional manner, and with lawyers, military police and duty personnel present during the time of the search of the house," he said, adding that the search had turned up a substantial amount of evidence which clearly suggested that Defense Force security had been breached.

He also denied suggestions that he was on a "massive campaign" to clean up and put colonels out of their jobs.

On the removing of the Defense Force lawyers, the commander said that he had acted constitutionally as provided by the Defense Act but only after consulting the legal bench of the PNGDF.

"Unfortunately, for a long time the Defense Force has been treated like a welfare organization. I want to change this now. The force has been non-existent for 23 years, the future generation of Papua New Guinea needs a force that is highly trained, mobile, efficient and effective. Once there is no more Bougainville, the Defense Force will use the opportunity to retrain with the (objective of) serving so that we can one day develop this force so that the future generations of Papua New Guinea will be proud to have a force that is highly disciplined, mobile and trained," he said.

Commenting on statements made by the anti corruption group Transparency International about his appointment Commander Singirok said that he only responded to the government, the judicial system and other constitutional bodies in the country.

He decried having political affiliations with the Skate government saying, "I can assure Papua New Guinea that I am the commander of the Defense Force.

"I've got no political affiliations. This Defense Force belongs to the people of Papua New Guinea and I wish to reassure all the people including politicians that this Defense Force will serve the politicians and its people," he said.

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

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