PM O’Neill Denies Vanuatu Minister ‘Invited’ To PNG

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PM O’Neill Denies Vanuatu Minister ‘Invited’ To PNG Carlot arrived unexpectedly, allegedly met with 2 PNG officials

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 22, 2013) – Embattled Vanuatu Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot yesterday said he and his delegation flew into Port Moresby last week at the invitation of the O’Neill government.

However, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told a press conference at Morauta Haus yesterday afternoon that Mr. Carlot’s statement was "a blatant lie" as his government did not invite any anyone from neighboring Pacific Island countries to visit Port Moresby.

The strong rebuttal from the head of the PNG government capped a tense weekend following revelations by the local media that a British-registered Boeing 737 landed unannounced at the Jackson’s International Airport last Thursday.

Flanked by top bureaucrats Lucy Bogari (Foreign Affairs), Joseph Kintau (National Airports Corporation), Captain Ted Paki (PNG Air Services Ltd), Ray Paul (PNG Customs), Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga and Chief Secretary Manasupe Zurenuoc, Mr. O’Neill said he was satisfied independent investigations by the separate state agencies cleared the aircraft and its passengers of any wrongdoing.

He also defended his ministers, State Enterprise Minister Ben Micah and Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, who were seen with Mr. Carlot and cited by a confidential brief prepared by Mr. Kulunga saying their sighting with the Vanuatu Foreign Minister did not mean they were involved in illegal activities.

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman says he was unaware of any official visits to PNG by Carlot. Public Relations Officer Jeff Patunvanu says the only trip Carlot was to make in an official capacity was to represent Vanuatu at the International Renewable Energy Agency Assembly in the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. Embassy in PNG also dismissed reports that Ambassador Walter North met with Carlot. Oro Governor Gary Juffa has slammed the unannounced aircraft arrival, along with its purported passengers, saying that PNG was becoming a haven for transnational criminals.]

Opposition Leader Belden Namah has called for the duo’s sacking from Mr. O’Neill’s cabinet, prompting Mr. Micah to charge that the Vanimo Green MP lied.

"I have lost my respect for the alternate Prime Minister for telling a lie and reducing himself to a liar on the street. He should come up with something better to get me sacked as Minister," the Kavieng MP said.

Amidst the name calling between the PNG politicians, government documents including emails sighted by the Post-Courier confirmed that airport authorities Customs, Immigration and Quarantine and National Airports Corporation did not get documentation advising of the plane’s arrival until after its touchdown at the Jackson’s International Airport.

Documents also shows that the PNG Embassy in Brussels advised headquarters in a letter dated January 11, 2013 of the aircraft’s arrival. It is not known why the department did not facilitate the plane’s documentation until the eleventh hour. The documentation including correspondence with the UK-based International JetClub Limited, the owner of the aircraft, was also copied to Air Niugini’s International Terminal Manager.

Despite the obvious lapses in the ability of the various state agencies to respond effectively to the incident, Mr. O’Neill said he was happy with the overall response and his government is working to improve on that.

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