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Australia To Bail Out PNG Defence

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By South Pacific correspondent 19 Oct 00

AUSTRALIA is to help Papua New Guinea reform its armed forces with an aid package that includes funding for soldiers' rations and unpaid allowances, the Australian reports.

Defence aid to Port Moresby will treble to nearly $25 million this year in support of the attempt by the Morauta Government to overhaul the country's increasingly unruly forces.

John Howard said yesterday Australia would provide a special package of immediate aid, including a financial bail-out for the PNG Defence Force, which has been collecting debts since its Bougainville deployment began 10 years ago.

Worth almost $15 million in total, the one-off package of assistance is over and above the annual $8 million provided under Australia's Defence Co-operation Program.

Up to 30 Australian defence advisers may be deployed into a PNG force increasingly beset with discipline, corruption and management problems.

The assistance, which represents a large shift in Australia's defence policy with PNG, follows a personal request to Mr Howard from his PNG counterpart Mekere Morauta during the Olympics.

Sir Mekere outlined his reform plan yesterday to the PNG parliament, saying the defence force was ill-disciplined and incapable of protecting the nation.

In March, soldiers demonstrated in Port Moresby over poor wages, accommodation, catering and unpaid service benefits.

Last month on PNG's 25th anniversary of independence, enraged soldiers burned down their barracks at Wewak.

A just-completed review of the defence force also revealed that the force could not meet its basic needs, including feeding its men, and would not be able to deploy a significant force anywhere in the country in less than 30 days. Sir Mekere's reform plans are expected to reduce the force from its current level of 4200 men to about 1500 by the middle of next year.

Sir Mekere yesterday announced plans for a commonwealth-sponsored eminent persons group to oversee the reforms. An Australian is expected to head this group, given the long history of Australian involvement in the PNG Defence Force, which was established at independence in 1975.

+++niuswire


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