Jiwaka-based soldiers ‘neutral’

National

MEMBERS of the PNG Defence Force Engineering Battalion based in Jiwaka are not involved in election security operations, Jiwaka provincial police commander Joseph Tondop says.
However, Singirok Barracks, in Jiwaka, where members of the battalion reside, will be used for polling for North Wahgi.
“The soldiers who are at Kerowil are members of the Engineering Battalion and are not authorised to be part of the 500 soldiers who have been selected by the PNG Defence Force commander (for election security),” Tondop said yesterday to dispel rumours that members of the battalion, who may be loyal to former Defence Minister and North Wahgi MP Fabian Pok, are involved in election duties. “They will not perform any role in the election. That’s my understanding.
“As far as I’m concerned, as head of the security forces, we won’t be using them because they’re not in the operations’ order of the PNG Defence Force commander.
“If they’re not part of the general orders of the PNGDF commander, they are not going to be used, so I don’t see any fear there.
“From my understanding, they won’t be used in polling.”
However, Tondop said other officers assigned to security duties will be out in full force when polling starts on June 24.
“Police know where the hotspots are, where the polling places are and how to assist polling officials.”
Tondop said because of shortfalls in manpower, the provincial election steering committee, of which he is a member, has recommended central polling places.
“Other than that, I can safely say, after being PPC for the last four years, that the general population is very peace-loving,” he said.
“There may be one or two occasions where people become hostile, however, they’re generally peace-loving.”
Tondop said police and soldiers from outside Jiwaka will be brought in to boost security.
“I’m confident that we will do our level-best in as far as security is concerned,” he said. “I can say that I’m well prepared to assist the electoral manager and his team.
“We will attend to all situations including any that may disrupt the democratic process. We won’t allow anyone to hijack the process, including block-voting, which is a common process in the Highlands.”
Campaigning in the region has been peaceful, Jiwaka provincial administration and provincial election steering committee chairman Michael Wandil said.
The province has three Open seats — Anglimp South Wahgi, North Wahgi and Jimi — and the regional seat.
“More of our people are well-informed and educated, in as far as selection of leaders and voting is concerned,” Wandil said.

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