PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Oct. 7) – Papua New Guinea troops and police have been dispatched to a remote New Ireland mountaintop to check the claimed discovery of billions of kina in wartime gold.

Cabinet reportedly directed that the soldiers and police be sent to verify the claim and to protect the find from poachers.

It is believed a legal agreement has been drawn up by private lawyers to set down the share of the "spoils’’ . . . if they are found to exist.

Villagers on the rugged west coast of the mainland have been watching the movements of the soldiers with anger as they resent the intrusions of "outsiders’’ trying to grab the mountaintop riches.

Soldiers went to the province last week allegedly on direction from the Chief Secretary to the Government, Joshua Kalinoe. They were backed up by a detachment of mobile squad police from East New Britain in a maneuver labeled "Operation Morningstar."

They set up a base camp on the east coast at a village called Dalom and at another base on the west coast, at Komalabuo and have been flying into the mountains.

Local villagers were told the activities were for an army "exercise’’. 

But that fooled very few.

Many in the small New Ireland capital, Kavieng, said they knew the troops and police were sent in to investigate the alleged stockpile of gold.

Senior government staff in Waigani was told that a cache of up to 10 tons of gold, allegedly unearthed and processed by the Japanese during World War II, had been amassed in a mountain cave.

The Government, facing ongoing budget deficits, was reportedly excited at the "find’’ and decided to send troops and police to preserve the gold for the nation, using the Museums Act of Parliament which protects "relics’’ for the State.

A New Irelander in the Waigani bureaucracy said yesterday that elderly villagers in the area had kept the secret but it had leaked out when, nearing death, they passed word to others.

The Post-Courier was told that a Papua New Guinean had been seen heading into the mountains in recent months and took young villagers to help with equipment and to do laboring work.

More recently, the Papua New Guinean arrived at the coastal village nearest to the mountaintop with two foreigners, two power generators and some basic drilling equipment.

They were met angrily by villagers who barred them from heading into the hills.

Building contractor John Merebo, who is from the area, said yesterday the villagers had tried to get a court order to stop the men from going into their traditional land.

It is believed some prominent New Irelanders, including a senior Defense Force officer, were involved in recent attempts to form a company to get involved in salvaging the wartime gold.

October 7, 2003

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