PNG ARMY TO REMAIN NEUTRAL: DEFENSE MINISTER WAIENG

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 12, 1999 – Post-Courier)---The PNG Defense Force will never be used to wrest political power and no politician would use the country's Defense Force to get into power, Defense Minister Peter Waieng said yesterday.

Mr. Waieng told a press conference at the Defense Headquarters at Murray Barracks that he was equally concerned about the concerns raised by Sir John Kaputin, the Chairman of G17 Members of Parliament from the New Guinea Islands, of a possible security forces intervention in politics.

Mr. Waieng said he was disturbed by the news and he was not happy with the way leaders were using the PNGDF to play politics.

"The Papua New Guinea Defense Force is established by an Act of Parliament and we should not play politics with institutions that are established to serve the interest of the people and the country,'' Mr. Waieng said.

"Mentioning the Defense Force for political point scoring sends bad signals to investors and the international community.

"The PNGDF has gone down in 1997 in a worst scenario case. We have never experienced anything worse than the Sandline saga and it was not the fault of the Defense Force personnel but a making of politicians and foreign elements, and politicians should not talk about the force because we do not want to politicize the Defense Force.''

Mr. Waieng said the Sandline saga had divided the force and if politicians were not careful and sensitive when making statements against the force, "this country can become another African State.'' "I have been the only Defense Minister who has gone around to all the defense establishments in the country and I want to assure everyone that nothing is cooking within the Defense Force leading to the July session of Parliament,'' he said.

The minister said soldiers are not interested in politics but want basic essentials to keep them going in their work, and politicians should talk about how to help soldiers address some of these problems.

"Soldiers want food, uniforms and shelter, and these are their basic and immediate concerns,'' Mr. Waieng said.

"Talk about military intervention, it will never happen. I am speaking as a citizen and if I want to gain power, I will not use the army to get into power.''

Mr. Waieng was commenting on media reports where members of G17 from the Islands region expressed concern about an alleged security force intervention plan.

The group had written to Prime Minister Bill Skate warning that "elements of the security forces might be planning to intervene in politics if they do not find the result of the possible vote of no confidence'' acceptable to them.

The group issued the statement after their meeting in Lihir last week.

Mr. Waieng urged leaders to be more responsible and talk with sense and let the military play its neutral role serving the country and its people.

The minister invited G17 leaders who might feel threatened to come to his office and discuss their concerns with him.

He said everything is being done to restore confidence in the Defense Force since he took over the ministry.

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

PNG DEFENSE COMMANDER DENIES MILITARY INTERVENTION IN POLITICS

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 13, 1999 – Radio Australia)---Papua New Guinea Defense Force Commander Jerry Singirok has denied claims there are plans for military intervention in politics.

The speculation has been fuelled by Opposition claims that elements of the PNG Defense Force might intervene when a no-confidence vote becomes due in July.

Brigadier General Singirok said there are disgruntled elements in the Defense Force who may be playing politics, and he told them they must quit the military if they have political ambitions.

But, he said, the Defense Force is loyal to the Government of the day and there will be no military intervention:

"There is no such operation in place," he said. "There is no such elite force being prepared to influence the process of democracy on the floor of parliament.

"It was a very effective and a good rumor that has absolutely no substance."

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

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