PNG DEFENSE FORCE HAS NO MONEY TO REPAIR PLANES: COLONEL TAKENDU

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 14, 2000 – Post-Courier)---All planes and helicopters belonging to the PNG Defense Force have been grounded for some time due to operational or mechanical problems.

PNGDF Chief of Staff Colonel David Takendu said there have been no funds for about two years, forcing all aircraft to remain on the ground.

Colonel Takendu said funds were needed to service the aircraft as well as to pay for fuel and other costs.

"At the moment we are waiting for funding to get them airborne,'' he said.

During the same period, the PNGDF has been paying some K33,000 to charter "civilian aircraft'' (mainly Air Niugini) to move troops and military equipment to and from Bougainville.

The high cost of the charters has, on occasion, forced the army to ferry troops on commercial flights, together with civilian passengers.

Mr. Takendu was responding to an incident in Buka last Thursday, where troops returning from a tour of duty on Bougainville allegedly forced an Air Niugini commercial flight to be delayed for three hours.

More than 40 Wewak-based soldiers had refused to board the Port Moresby bound plane because they did not want to leave their weapons behind.

The weapons and other military gear were in excess of the required freight for such a long trip.

The matter was resolved when some soldiers boarded a Rabaul bound Air Sankamap plane before catching another Air Niugini aircraft to Port Moresby.

A Defense Force officer had told the Post- Courier that they did not want to leave their weapons behind for security reasons.

"Our travel arrangements were made before this month and to be told not to board the aircraft because space was taken up by cargo from previous flights was not a good excuse,'' he said.

Colonel Takendu said he understood his men's decision not to part with their weapons because there would have been uncertainty about the security of those weapons and each soldier could have been held responsible for not looking after his firearm and ammunitions.

"A soldier is trained to sleep with his weapon; it's part of his life. He just cannot part with it easily,'' he said.

Colonel Takendu agreed that it would be been much more economical for the PNGDF to run its own fleet of aircraft for troop movements instead of paying K33, 000 for a charter.

He said the PNGDF's Casa planes were not flying because experts from Casa Industries had to be flown in to PNG to bring the planes on line, as well as "re-categorize the pilots.''

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

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