PNG security forces on alert in Hela over ‘illegal army’ tip-off

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Papua New Guinean police question a PNGDF soldier stationed at Pares
Papua New Guinean police question a PNGDF soldier stationed at Para (Hides) in Helu province after the security forces acted on a tip-off and seized the airlifted uniforms. Image: PNG Post-Courier

PNG Post-Courier

An illegal army in full military gear and arms is being raised in Hela — one of Papua New Guinea’s most troublesome provinces as the country faces a general election next month.

Reports from Hela indicate the illegal force will allegedly take charge of polling which is expected to start on July 4.

PNG security forces in Hela — made up of army, police and correctional services — are on high alert after uncovering military fatigues brought in on a chartered plane, and are monitoring the situation.

The PNG Defence Force issue uniforms were airlifted on a chartered flight to Hela from Port Moresby.

The uniforms, packed in boxes, were impounded by soldiers on election duty in Hela.

“I am calling on the police, the leaders and the PNGDF hierarchy to come out and tell us why these people who are close to the leaders of the day are in army uniforms, all of them,” said Hela regional candidate Francis Potape, referring to a picture of several men in army fatigues.

“This picture was taken on the morning of June 18 and in the afternoon the chartered flight was confiscated with army uniforms among others.”

PNGDF-issued uniforms
Potape said the uniforms confiscated were not Lot 60 bought uniforms, but were PNGDF-issued uniforms.

“We know the PNGDF soldiers at Angore intercepted the charter and confiscated the uniforms, we also know the officer in charge in Para was interviewed and could not tell the truth.

“PNGDF, how can we allow police or PNGDF-issued uniforms to be in the hands of criminals?

“These uniforms are clothes worn by those who sign and swore an oath to protect every citizen of this country, of the nation and our leaders. Ordinary citizens cannot wear those uniforms.

“What is happening?” Potape asked.

The Peoples United Assembly (PUA) — a group formed by the late Anderson Agiru, called on police to carry out a thorough investigation into several charters paid in cash, one of which was caught with the army uniforms on June 18.

“Paul Mulapigo put out a statement saying he chartered that plane, Paul Mulapigo did not charter the flight– that is not what we know. Police and the leaders of Hela must come out and tell the truth as we know three charters for security gear, election run and kits were in Hela,” PUA president Raymond Kuai said.

“If the PNG Electoral Commission doesn’t know about this, who does?”

Flight charter, but ‘no uniforms’
The Post-Courier reported on June 20 that a Paul Malapi confirmed chartering the flight but he had never moved any police or army uniforms.

“I am a supporter of Pangu Pati and I never moved any police uniforms of PNGDF uniforms into Komo on any flights I have chartered,” Malapi said.

Assistant Police Commissioner Samson Kua said at the time that police had confiscated one blue field uniform, three police number one long pants with boots as well as one set of PNGDF camouflage uniform, one shirt and one pair of shorts.

Police and PNGDF sources in Hela confirmed the incident and that investigations were continuing.

Potape, who is contesting under the People’s National Congress party ticket, claimed that fake ballot boxes and papers had been also smuggled into the province and all the candidates were looking out for this.

“I heard someone had already brought in extra ballot boxes and papers to the province,” he said.

“As I speak the papers and boxes are already in Hela — such practice was done in the 2017 elections.”

Ready for lawful election
Raymond Kuai, a lawyer, said: “That picture was taken Saturday morning and in the afternoon the chartered plane cargo was impounded.

“Hela is ready to go to the polls to elect their leaders in a lawful manner, why are we engaged in such activities? That is why I am calling for police to step in and investigate or we will have a failed or no election in Hela.”

The development in Hela comes as the PNGEC released dates for polling which commence on July 4, with Hela joining Mamose, Islands and Southern regions’ followed by the other Highlands provinces a few days later.

This scenario is likely to add to destabilising the already fragile region.

Hela has been a trouble spot with a proliferation of high-powered firearms in the past two decades, which have been used in tribal fights and in confrontations with security forces.

Republished with permission by the PNG Post-Courier.

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