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January 16, 2021
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Major General  Toropo:  Government Needs to Understand Our Priorities

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Ongoing reform in the Papua New Guinea Defense force is being aimed at rebuilding the PNGDF with a greater focus  on regional security.

Some of the objectives include the development of the recently opened Joint Services College (JSC) into a regional security training center that caters to the  security 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 obligations to support our neighbors,” says PNGDF Commander, Maj. Gen. Gilbert Toropo.

As in the case of the crisis  Solomon Islands,  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.

The PNGDF Commander indicates the  Pacific Island Countries cannot  always rely on Australia  for regional security.

“You will note that  regional security has always been approached on an adhoc basis  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 a 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,  the  number of personnel   who had aged  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.”

After 30 years, the reopening of the Joint Services College  at  the Igam Barracks in Lae,  has brought renewed youthful  vigor to the fatigued  PNGDF.   For the first time in three decades,  the Igam barracks  received new recruits from all over Papua New Guinea  and from  the three disciplinary  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 says.  “It will also mean relocating the engineering battalion in Lae  to another province.

In recent years,  there has been increased focus on internal  security  within resource  rich areas of Papua New Guinea.

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 LNG projects   which, according to government commissioned  investigations, has seen an increase in the number of   small arms in tribal warfare.

The heads of departments  meeting  that ended today   is  key  for the PNGDF as is express  its long term funding requirements  that is spread out over the next 20 years.

“Our needs are unique and most times we are treated  like another government department.  A lot of times,  the government doesn’t understand  that we need to plan for a longer period.”

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