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By Abby Yadi and Raymond Palangat

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 13, 1998 - The Independent)---All seven of the country's former Defense Force commanders have called on Brigadier General Jerry Singirok to "stand aside" as commander until sedition charges leveled against him have been cleared.

The former army commanders including Ted Diro, Ken Noga, Rochus Lokinap, Gago Mamae, Tony Huai, Robert Dademo and Leo Nuia also agreed that the reappointment of General Singirok was done without proper consultation and had breached the relevant government appointing procedures.

"Given the serious nature of the criminal charge laid against Brigadier General Jerry Singirok, it is not humanly possibly for the commander to fulfill these great responsibilities while the charge of sedition remains unsolved," a joint statement signed by Messrs. Diro, Mamae, Noga and Huai said. Brigadier Nuia, who the Skate government sacked last month and replaced with Mr. Singirok, had also agreed to sign the statement after it was read to him. The seventh, Brigadier General Dademo was reported to have supported the call, but would not sign, as he is currently in the public service.

Gen. Singirok could not be reached for comment, but Acting Chief of Staff of PNGDF Colonel Ben Norrie said the views expressed were those of former commanders and the army as it was then.

Col. Norrie said as a Defense Force, the rank and file must be loyal to the commander, appointed by the legitimate government of the day.

"We have to be loyal to the commander of the day, duly appointed by the government of the day," Mr. Norrie said.

He said he could no comment on behalf of Gen. Singirok, but on the behalf of the management of the Forces, the PNG Defense Force was "still intact and loyal to the commander of the day."

He said the sedition charge against Gen. Singirok was something the police and the judiciary would have to sort out.

"The judiciary must be seen to be at work. It has nothing to do with the force," he said.

But the former commanders, led by Mr. Diro, said the sedition charge against Mr. Singirok was already affecting the force.

They said as former commanders they had an "overwhelming concern for the integrity, discipline, morale and effectiveness of the Defense Force."

They told a press conference that the cabinet decision to reappoint Gen. Singirok was not only unwelcomed news to the rank and file of the force but it made the force look like a personal institution of the Prime Minister and his Defense minister.

They said the Force needed urgent financial support from the government and needed to sustain periods of stability and certainty, "free from political interference and manipulation.

"We call on General Singirok to do the right and honorable thing by himself, by the PNGDF and by the nation and stand aside until the charge of sedition now before the courts is resolved.

"We all know General Singirok well. We believe he still continues to have the best interests of the PNGDF at heart and trust that he will stand aside and prepare his defense against the serious charge of sedition," they said.

They said General Singirok standing aside would not undermine the presumption of innocence.

They said that if he did not do so then the National Executive Council had the responsibility to stand Mr. Singirok aside and appoint an acting commander.

Commenting on the state of affairs in the PNG Defense Force, Mr. Diro said he still believed that PNG soldiers were still one of the best fighters in the world but that there was still potential to do more with the army.

He said the discipline in the army was not what it used to be during his time and servicemen were enjoying too much freedom today.

He maintained that the force was not that bad and it was only up to the commander to guide soldiers and inspire them.

Mr. Diro said there was too much politicizing of the force now.

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

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