SCOTT WAIDE | My Land, My Country | Edited
ONGOING reform in the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) is aimed at rebuilding it with a greater focus on regional security.
Among the objectives are the expansion of the recently-opened Joint Services College into a regional security training centre to cater for the training needs of other countries within the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) countries as well as the relocation of the Lae-based engineering battalion.
“Under MSG arrangements we have an obligation to support our neighbours,” said PNGDF Commander, Major General Gilbert Toropo.
In the case of the Solomon Islands crisis, there was a heavy dependence on Australia as the main regional partner. Australia funded the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which included members of the PNGDF.
“Regional security has always been approached on an ad hoc basis,” he said, “and we don’t want to continue doing that.
“Our aim is to train for our priorities during peacetime so that, when emergencies happen, Pacific countries can respond easily because officers have been trained together.”
As an older member of the PNGDF who served on Bougainville, Toropo, saw the deterioration of the PNGDF during the 10 years of the Bougainville crisis. Resources were depleted and, over time, ageing personnel were not replaced as quickly as was needed.
“When we returned from the Bougainville war, we found that infrastructure had deteriorated.
“Then the government decided to downsize the defence force, but that didn’t affect our constitutional priorities.”
Now, the reopening of the Joint Services College at the Igam Barracks in Lae has brought renewed vigour to the PNGDF. For the first time in 30 years, the barracks has received new recruits from all over Papua New Guinea for the three disciplined services.
Toropo sees the PNGDF playing a greater role in nation-building through the engineering battalion.
“Ideally, we want to establish four regional battalions with a priority in the Highlands,” Toropo said. “It will also mean relocating the engineering battalion in Lae to another province.
The military presence is also part of a greater effort to place pockets of security personnel in hotspots around the country like mine sites and liquefied natural gas projects where, according to government commissioned investigations, there have been an increase in the use of small arms in tribal warfare.
A meeting held recently will be the key for the PNGDF to express its long-term funding requirements for the next 20 years.
“Our needs are unique and most times we are treated like another government department,” said Major General Toropo. “A lot of times, the government doesn’t understand that we need to plan for a longer period.”