UPNG student protesters call for ‘transparency’ over US defence pact

PNG's Finance Minister Rainbo Paita
PNG's Finance Minister Rainbo Paita (left in suit) receives the UPNG student petition against the US defence pact today. Image: NBC News

By Stella Martin and Rose Amos in Port Moresby

Thousands of students at the University of Papua New Guinea staged a protest at the Waigani campus Forum Square today against the US-PNG Defence Cooperation Agreement that is scheduled for signing this afternoon.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is already in the country to sign the defence pact and also the Ship Rider Agreement with PNG.

The students claimed that the agreements between PNG and the United States concerned national security and their content must be made known for public scrutiny and transparency before signing takes place.

However, Prime Minister James Marape had earlier insisted that the agreements to be signed were transparent.

Marape added that not all agreements signed should be presented to Parliament earlier.

He said the country’s State Solicitor, who represents PNG’s legal checks and balances, had been involved “every step of the way” and had given clearance over the laws of this country.

Marape said that as soon as it is stable for transparency the country would be privy to those agreements and they would be tabled in Parliament.

‘Almost there for signing’
“I just wish to assure everyone, that Parliament will be privy to what we are about to sign and at the moment our Foreign Affairs team has been leading the negotiations. We are at the stage where we are almost there for signing,” he said.

“I want to give assurance to our country, it is nothing to be sceptical about,” said Marape.

Marape further elaborated that similar agreements and cooperation had been reached with other countries and that PNG could reach out to other bilateral partners with similar agreements as stipulated in the Constitution.

Also, the country’s foreign policy was: “Friends to all and enemies to none”.

The US and PNG already had a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA.

A SOFA is an agreement between a host country and a foreign nation stationing military forces in that country.

SOFAs are often included, along with other types of military agreements, as part of a comprehensive security arrangement.

Corporations allowed
Marape briefly stated that the SOFA agreement did allow US defence corporations and others to be involved in PNG.

PNG was just elevating this specific one with the USA.

Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso also clarified that once the agreement was agreed by the National Executive Council (NEC) and signed off by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister it would be brought before Parliament and debated before it became law.

On behalf of the government, Finance Minister Rainbo Paita adressed the protesting students at the UPNG Forum Square and received the petition presented by the Student Representative Council president Luther Kising.

Other tertiary institution’s student bodies, such as the University of Goroka and the University of Technology at Lae, have also protested against the defence cooperation agreement.

Meanwhile, there was a high presence of police reinforcements at the entrance to UPNG preventing the protest from escalating further.

Stella Martin and Rose Amos are NBC reporters. Republished with permission.

UPNG protesters at the Forum Square today
UPNG protesters at the Forum Square today. Image: NBC News
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