APPEAL TO POLICE, SOLDIERS TO STAY OFF UNIVERSITY OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA CAMPUS

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 22, 2001 – NAU-FM/The National/PINA Nius Online)---Police and soldiers have been asked to stay off the University of Papua New Guinea campus to avoid further confrontations.

It follows an incident where a truck load of police officers and a utility vehicle filled with soldiers came on campus amidst continuing tensions over the army rebellion against proposed reforms.

A group of students earlier clashed with police outside the Waigani campus after trying to present a petition on the Defense Force reforms issue to the Prime Minister's Office.

The students had been refused entry by police into Morauta House at Waigani to hand over a petition to Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta.

The students then returned to the campus, where they had the confrontation with a police mobile unit. Police in riot gear managed to contain the rowdy group of students who retreated further onto the campus grounds.

At around 4:30 p.m., a utility vehicle with about a dozen soldiers drove onto the campus. The soldiers met and spoke with the disgruntled students and student leaders.

Meanwhile, Police Minister Jimson Sauk said that the police would not tolerate public rallies or gatherings related to the Defense Force issue.

He said that it was an "internal defense matter" and the Defense Minister and his senior officers were capable of handling the issue.

Mr. Sauk said that anyone who sees the incident as an opportunity to create law and order problems would be doing so at their own risk.

"The police will not hesitate to use the full force of the law to uphold law and order," he said.

He appealed to students and all citizens to be calm and to carry out their normal work and allow police to protect the public and their properties.

Meanwhile, Sir Mekere's passionate plea to soldiers through a letter yesterday appeared to have been just the tonic needed to calm down tempers in the rank and file.

"His letter to us is magic. It is working," said one military insider last night. "The letter from the Prime Minister came to us like an olive branch. It has touched many of us," said the soldier.

He was referring to the following lines Sir Mekere wrote: "Gentlemen, together we have a duty to protect and preserve the integrity of our country, not only for the present generation, but also for our children and grandchildren.

"I appeal to you as Papua New Guineans to help me in this enormous task. It is only together that we can face the many challenges we face with some degree of confidence and hope of success.

"God be with you, and may He work through us to do what is right for our country," Sir Mekere said in conclusion.

In the preceding lines, Sir Mekere apologized to the soldiers for any misunderstanding that he was to attend the gathering at the Murray Barracks rugby oval on Tuesday. He blamed National Broadcasting Corporation radio broadcasts for the wrong information.

The rest of the contents of his letter to the soldiers reads as follows:

"I write to you to convey directly two very important Government decisions regarding the Defense Force and the current situation.

"Cabinet at its meeting No. 11/2001 on Monday, 19 March confirmed the decision of the Prime Minister not to implement the recommendations of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group Report.

"Cabinet at its special meeting No 11/2001 on Monday, 19 March confirmed that an unconditional amnesty has been granted to all soldiers who are affected or involved in the current situation. A copy of my press release of today's date on this subject confirms this."

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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