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Papua New Guinea will deploy foreign fighter jets and special forces to protect world leaders attending a major Asia-Pacific forum next month in the crime-plagued capital Port Moresby, officials have said.
The government is planning a massive security operation for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit from November 17, which will attract representatives from 21 nations.
Attendees will include China’s President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Mike Pence, who is not even expected to sleep in the city, but stay overnight in Australia.
Port Moresby itself has been given a facelift for the summit, with major infrastructure projects, many of them funded by China.
Due to a shortage of hotel accommodation, many of the 15,000 delegates will bunk down on three cruise liners docked in the port, presenting additional security complications.
Although the threat posed by terrorism in PNG is considered minimal, the Melanesian country’s reputation for lawlessness and violent crime precedes it.
To ensure delegates are safe from crime and potential terror attacks, the government has enlisted military help from Australia and the United States to ensure the capital’s streets are safe.
“It’s a major undertaking, but it’s very, very important when it comes to promoting the country economy-wise,” said Justin Tkatchenko, the minister responsible for planning the summit. “We’ve never had leaders like this before ever come to this area. The whole world will be watching.”
More than a third of Papua New Guinea’s 8.5 million population lives below the poverty line, while tribal and political violence is a recurring problem, particularly in the Highlands region.
Notorious street gangs known as “raskols” have made car jackings common and the country has among the highest rates of rape and domestic violence in the world. About half the capital’s population live in squatter settlements.
“Tribal violence, street violence, gender-based violence – it’s just eating the fabric of our society,” said the capital region’s governor Powes Parkop.
The Economist Intelligence Unit this year ranked Port Moresby 136th out of 140 on its list of the world’s most liveable cities.
Australia is bankrolling much of the security operation and has deployed about 1,500 military personnel, including special forces, to Port Moresby.
Australian F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters and surveillance aircraft will patrol the skies over Port Moresby, with Canberra also sending warships to protect cruise liners.
The US Coast Guard has been assigned to provide “inshore security” in the capital.
Tkatchenko recently told parliament “we are working with our partners so that we can deploy fighter jets in our skies, enhance maritime security and deliver joint special forces operations.”
The government has passed laws allowing international security personnel to use lethal force if necessary to deal with an “imminent threat” during the summit, a move former defence force chief Jerry Singirok warned could impinge on the country’s sovereignty.
Canberra-based military think tank the Australia Defence Association said that without such foreign security contributions, developing nations such as Papua New Guinea would never be able to host APEC.
“That wouldn’t be good from a strategic level or a political level,” executive director Neil James said.
James believed the huge numbers of police and military in Port Moresby for the summit would keep crime to a minimum. “There’ll be so many security personnel on the streets that it’s not going to be a problem.”
Outside the capital, economic growth driven by the development of resources such as liquefied natural gas has stalled as world prices have fallen.
For the vast majority of the population, which is based in rural areas, basic services like health and education remain poor.
While some provincial hospitals struggle with chronic shortages of drugs and supplies, the government has imported 40 Maserati Quattroporte supercars, valued at more than US$150,000 each, for APEC.
Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Charles Abel said making a positive impression at APEC, the 21-nation grouping which collectively represents the equivalent of 60 per cent of global GDP, could make a difference.
“We need investment, we need partnerships, we need capital to develop our country,” he said. “So Apec is going to present a wonderful marketing opportunity for Papua New Guinea because there’s so many opportunities with the wealth that we have and the beautiful people that we have and the wonderful culture that we have.”.
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