Former soldier blames Australia for PNGDF retrenchment

Main Stories, National

The National, Monday 07th November 2011

A FORMER high-ranking officer with the PNG Defence Force says current problems faced by retrenched soldiers should be blamed on the Australian government and not PNG.
And he urges former prime mi­nister Sir Mekere Morauta and former Defence commander Peter Ilau to speak out on the issue as they were party to the standing down of batch 1360.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the force’s standing down of batch 1360 came about at the recommendation of the Australian government under its Imminent Persons Group.
The Group was initiated by Australia to work with the PNG Defence Force to prevent the Sandline issue from recurring.
The Sandline issue happened in 1997 when soldiers went against the government of Sir Julius Chan over the employment of foreign soldiers to fight against people of Bougainville during the crisis on the island.
According to the officer “the IPG was the Australian way of rendering the PNG Defence Force ineffective which they succeeded in doing by forcing the best soldiers and officers from all elements to step down.”
The exercise to downsize the Defence Force from 5,000 to 2,000, he said, was carried out by the Chief of Staff Col Joe Kewa who “just drew a line at the first 2000 without considering qualification and experience and without foreseeing repercussions on the army and families of those stood down.”
The officer said this was a one-off exercise funded by the Australian government and they should be made responsible for any discrepancy in payouts for the soldiers.
He said the Australians did not understand the local culture nor consider other entitlements that should have come with the payout.
“This was a strategic plan by the Australians to render the PNGDF ineffective and the then commander and government went along with it.
“They also recommended that all our weapons be destroyed and sunk in the Basilik Passage and we are now without good firepower,” the former officer said.
He said the Australians have gone further to stop weapons sellers from selling to the PNG army.
The former officer said Australians were now also holding strategic positions in the PNG Defence Force and even in the Defence Council at Murray Barracks.
“No other country allows a foreigner to be on its defence council for the sake of national security. PNG is the only country doing that,” he said.
“I don’t see why the government has rewarded Ilau by making him Ambassador to Indonesia when he was responsible for selling PNG to the Australians and failed to stand up for his men and the country.”
He said former Ilau and Sir Mekere should come out clean on the matter and address the aggrieved ex-solders as they were responsible for the implementation of the Imminent Persons Group report.