18 Jul 2013

Governments identified as partly responsible for PNG army unrest

4:58 pm on 18 July 2013

A former Papua New Guinea Defence Force commander says the governments of PNG and Australia have to take some responsibility for unrest in PNG's military.

The comment by Major General Jerry Singirok follows the weekend attack by more than 30 soldiers on students and staff at a university campus in Port Moresby.

In condemning the attack, former commanders have identified a key cause as the failure by successive governments to repatriate and pay hundreds of retrenched soldiers dating back to 1999.

General Singirok told Johnny Blades Australia's government funded the retrenchment programme but failed to complete it, leaving a ticking time bomb in the PNGDF.

JERRY SINGIROK: Many soldiers who have been identified to be retrenched are still waiting for the government to pay them out and repatriate them back to their provinces. We believe that there's a whole range of frustrations that have built over a period of time, and the more former soldiers you have mingling around with regular soldiers you're bound to encounter such social unrest.

JOHNNY BLADES: You're saying it kind of causes a disaffecting... it erodes discipline, does it?

JS: It compromises discipline because on one side you've got regular soldiers who are supposed to respond to command and control, and on the other side you have former soldiers or soldiers waiting to be discharged who don't report to any system of command. So you've got two elements in an established (Indistinct) and when you can't define the proper chain of command you are bound to expect such problems.

JB: How hard can it be for the government to sort this out? It's just a matter of stumping up with some money, isn't it?

JS: Yes. I think, Johnny, I'll just go back to after my time in 1999 as commander. After I left the military the Australian government assured the people of Papua New Guinea that it will take over the retrenchment exercise of all the soldiers. Now, the Australian government is equally to be blamed for not fulfilling its commitment and assisting in the retrenchment exercise. And the soldiers that they identified to retrench are still waiting for that programme to be completed So you can understand it's a build-up since 1999 and it's not getting any better. And we also made this separate statement to call on the Australian government to be equally responsible for what they had first offered.

JB: I suppose in a way it was timely, wasn't it, 'cause Kevin Rudd was in town when it happened?

JS: Yeah, we're critical about the defence co-operation programme. It's a very, very selective programme that targets only certain elements of the PNGDF and it doesn't reflect the true spirit of co-operation within the context of national security and national development, et cetera. So we're also saying that if Australia is proactive in developing Papua New Guinea it must participate in developing the PNGDF first as the first line of defence.