PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Oct. 16) - The Papua New Guinea government yesterday announced there is no cave full of wartime gold bullion in the rugged mountains of central New Ireland.

A cabinet-ordered investigation found there was no WWII gold stash, a government spokesman said.

A joint force of PNG police and soldiers was sent to the Kalili and Messi villages area about 20 days ago to see if the reported bullion existed and to protect it if it was there.

Government senior advisers, including Chief Secretary Joshua Kalinoe — who reportedly controlled the project — Attorney-General Francis Damem, and National Security Advisory Council chief Joseph Assaigo were seen in the area in recent days.

Private lawyers were also on the scene in negotiations with parties talking about what to do with the gold, if it had been found.

A Defense Force Iroquois helicopter was based at Kokopo, operating from a private resort, and flew many missions to New Ireland during "Operation Morning Star," the project’s code-name.

The operation was budgeted with K150,000 according to Treasurer Bart Philemon.

The spokesman said a full briefing had been given by the National Government team that visited New Ireland to investigate the claims.

He said as a responsible government, "it has responded to calls by the landowners to assist them in finding out if there were any truth in the rumours speculated throughout the province’’.

"The people of East Coast and West Coast Namatanai came voluntarily and requested the National Government for help. The Government responded and assisted the landowners with full investigation into the specific sites where they thought gold bullion might have been stored and sealed off in man-made tunnels before World War II ended,’’ the spokesman said.

Police and soldiers were sent to maintain a government presence, due to security considerations including potential wartime explosives and the "tense situation’’ between landowner groups. 

It was also used to conduct specialist training in the area in preparation for troop replacement/changeover in the Solomon Islands.

The spokesman warned against unauthorized foreigners going into the private customary land and creating anxiety among landowners.

"Any foreigners found wandering about on the customary land without proper clearance or have obtained incorrect visas, entry permits to enter PNG will be dealt with according to immigration and other laws. Foreigners still in the area must leave immediately,’’ he said.

October 16, 2003

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