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PNG: Government plans to prune PNGDF

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PORT MORESBY: The Papua New Guinea Government will seriously consider reducing the size of the PNG Defence Force, Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta told Parliament yesterday, the National reports.

"My view is that the culture of instability in the Defence Force is internalised and is a very serious problem," Sir Mekere said.

"Can we afford it? Those are the kinds of questions that we will have to

address in the coming months.

"Otherwise we are sitting on a simmering time bomb which may explode in future."

Later, in the afternoon the National Executive Council met and endorsed an interim report of the officials committee appointed by the Ministerial Task Force on Defence which is looking at ways of solving the problems in the Defence Force and the Department of Defence, and rebuilding both.

"It is imperative that we have a Defence Force that is willing and able to look after our national security interests," Sir Mekere said in a statement last night announcing the NEC endorsement.

"At the moment, from our initial investigations, it does not have that capacity. So we must look at it very closely, with an open mind and with the best advice available, to see how we can provide protection for the nation that is within our capacity.

"What we are seeing in the Defence Force and the Defence Department today are the signs of institutional breakdown that has arisen because of years of neglect and mismanagement.

"This Government will not walk away from these problems. We will address them head-on and arrive at solutions that are in the national interest."

Most of yesterday's Question Time in Parliament was taken up by questions directed at Sir Mekere and Defence Minister Muki Taranupi on the recent soldiers' unrest in Port Moresby and Moem to food shortages for security forces on Bougainville and the progress on the current review of the Defence Force.

Sir Mekere said in reply to questions from Ambunti-Drekikir MP Judah Akesim on the Moem rampage: "We have to take a serious look at the size and structure of the Defence Force, the size and structure of the air element, the navy.

"Can we have a mixture that is geared towards cost cutting and maximum benefit to the country?"

He said he met with his Australian counterpart John Howard in Sydney last week and discussed, among others, the future of the Defence Force.

He plans to make major statement on the PNGDF in Parliament next week, he added.

Minister Taranupi, in reply to questions from Central Bougainville MP Sam Akoitai, admitted that soldiers were on only one meal a day in Bougainville, that being dinner because the K2 million Bougainville operations funds ran out in June this year.

Taranupi said money was being taken from other Defence votes to feed the

soldiers while villagers were also helping by supplying local garden produce.

Former Defence Force Commander and Central Regional MP Ted Diro in a supplementary question said that in any organisation where there was instability, the fault must be within from the command structure.

Diro said the current Defence Force commander was the cause of some of the problems and should be excluded from any review which should preferably be done by a parliamentary committee or an independent outside organisation.

Moresby Northeast MP and former police commander Philip Taku offered to help the troops on Bougainville with the discretionary component of his Rural Development Fund and asked Rural Development Minister William Ebenosi for permission to do so.

Ebenosi replied that it was "okay" because it was a national concern.

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