MAC: Mines and Communities

Decision saved innocent

Published by MAC on 2004-03-09

Decision saved innocent

By Malum Nalu, Postcourier, Papua New Guinea

9 March 04

In 1994, General Jerry Singirok was badly wounded by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army at Guava Village, Panguna, the home of reclusive independence leader Francis Ona.

One would have thought that he would still carry grudges against the BRA and Bougainvilleans, however, on March 17, 1997, he orchestrated the now famous Operation Rausim Kwik to eject Sandline mercenaries from Papua New Guinea.

General Singirok is of mixed Madang and East Sepik parentage — his father from Karkar Island in Madang and his mother from Dagua in East Sepik.

In 1974, while in Grade 12 at Sogeri National High School outside Port Moresby, General Singirok decided to forego studying law at the University of PNG for a military career.

In 1976, after completing his military training, he joined the PNG Defence Force Infantry Corp and where he remained an infantry officer.

In 1980, General Singirok served on Bougainville, did special force training in the United States, and in 1984 was an exchange officer with the Australian army under Peter Cosgrove, now Commander of the Australian Army.

In 1988 and 1989, when the Bougainville crisis first erupted, he had his first taste of action on the troubled island.

“In 1989,” General Singirok recalls, “I was the operations officer on Bougainville.

“In 1990, while a major, I was sent down to Australia to do a degree equivalent in military science.

“I attended the Australian Army Commandant Staff College in Queenscliffe, Victoria, for one year. And after that, because I did very well, they offered me a job in Australia for another two years as a lecturer in military art, strategic battlefield and all that.

“I was lecturing at Land Warfare Centre in Canambra as a major in 1992 and 1993.

“In 1993, I was recalled back to take over as operations officer on Bougainville because the military needed a push into Central Bougainville.

“So I came back in ‘93 with my family and joined the regiment on the island. When I came back, I was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.

“In 1994, I was commanding officer on Bougainville.

“In August of 1994, I was injured badly on Bougainville on my left wrist. I was trying to retrieve the body of a fellow officer who was killed with his ‘batman’ — late Major Keke Boge and his batman Jerry Fendu in Panguna at Guava village, Francis Ona’s village. In attempting to rescue them, the BRA shot into the helicopter and wounded me badly.

“I’ve still got shrapnel in my body which the State needs to find money to get rid of.

“In 1994, the Government was quite desperate that they needed a no–nonsense commander and I was appointed chief of intelligence.

“In 1995, I was away on a intelligence–related course in the United States when Sir Julius (Chan) rang me and asked me if I would come back as commander.

“In 1995, I was appointed general at age 38.

“I had achieved the rank of General in less than 18 years.”

Ironically, two years later, General Singirok would turn against the very man who asked if he would become commander of the PNGDF.

He said he did so to save thousands of lives on Bougainville.

General Singirok said key PNG government figures and Sandline had been negotiating the andline deal since early 1996.

“They (Sandline) were prepared to go straight into Panguna and capture Panguna because the Government gave us those limitation to go and open the mine before June of 1997,” he adds.

“Sandline was to operate between Panguna and SP Highway, down to Loloho and Arawa, and open the highway and open the mine and then let the BRA come and fight against us around the mine.

“That was the strategy that we used, and at the same time carry out exercises into Solomon Islands as a deterrent to cut off logistical supplies — the Solomon Islands was also proactive in supporting the military thrust into Central Bougainville.

“They (Sandline) were determined.

“And I had to do something before the Bulgarian Entemov — it’s a big aircraft that carries aircraft — arrived on the 19th of March (1997) with the gunships.

“I had to conduct my operation before 19th of March to prevent that aircraft from arriving. That’s why I chose 17th of March to carry out my mission of preventing the final equipment from arriving, which I successfully did.

“I had to isolate the Sandline executives on the night of the 16th of March, announce to the nation that Sandline contract is terminated on 17th of March and in doing so signal the Sandline office in London not to get the aircraft to arrive because their executives are in our custody and the contract will not be executed.

“We detained about four key executives and 87 or so mercenaries in Wewak and confined them to barracks.

“The executives were in Port Moresby while the mercenaries were doing training with our special force in Wewak. I had to act simultaneously and at the same time command troops up there in Moem Barracks to isolate the mercenaries there.”

PNG was plunged into turmoil over the next couple of days and weeks; however, General Singirok said he fully believed that the people of this country would not watch it slip into anarchy.

“The importance of me being available to the media was so critical,” he says. “I constantly had news conferences to remind people to respect the law. We had a lot of issues outstanding, as you know, UPNG students who were quite bitter about the engagement of Sandline, about Bougainville conflict, a lot of politicians, a lot of women’s groups, church groups came out openly defying the government’s decision to engage Sandline.

“And those are public issues that I had no control over. And the good thing is that it was contained and the Police and Defence did a wonderful job in containing the public.

“And I had a duty to use the media effectively, to tell the people that they had to calm down, this is not a coup, this is not a takeover, I just put a stop to a decision I believe was quite wrong. And the public reaction was expected, anyway, and that’s into damage control, which we handled.

“The resilience of the people of Papua New Guinea was incredible.

“Sandline had that commercial value on their contract. They used their modus operandi of Africa, and that is the sad thing. Because we look like Africans, they thought they could come and impose on us their commercial successes of Africa.

“And it’s good that we exposed them because the world no longer needs mercenaries. And PNG is not Africa, anyway. And I hope and pray that Sandline will not revisit us in PNG. And I hope that no Government will engage people like Sandline, and Tim Spicer.”

General Singirok admits that he received money from arms dealer, Franklin, for which he has served his three-year suspension and now wants to get on with life.

He says the PNGDF has given him the best years of his life.

“I believe that it’s been a very short but a very good career,” General Singirok reflects. I believe the Defence Force has been good to me. I’ve enjoyed the best part of my years as a soldier and as a military officer.”

This is the final part of an exclusive interview with former PNGDF commander General JERRY SINGIROK in which he talks about Sandline, Bougainville and his career as a soldier.

“...I had a duty to use the media effectively, to tell the people that they had to calm down, this is not a coup, this is not a takeover, I just put a stop to a decision I believe was quite wrong...”

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