Papua New Guinea Monday initialed a defence cooperation agreement with the United States, amid protests against the signing by university students and Opposition MPs.

The agreement was signed by PNG Defence Minister Win Daki and U.S secretary of state Antony Blinken.

A statement by the U.S state department said the signing, when coming into force, “will serve as a foundational framework upon which our two countries can enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force and increase stability and security in the region”.

The U.S will publish the contents of the document when it enters into force as provided by U.S law, the statement declared.

Protests and demonstrations were held at the University of Papua New Guinea, University of Technology in Lae, Divine Word University in Madang and at the University of Goroka.

The UPNG protests spilled out on the streets last night stopping traffic.

Opposition Leader Joseph Lelang cautioned the Government not to sacrifice Papua New Guinea’s sovereignty in the haste to sign international agreements with other nations, whatever the motivation.
Former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the Government was putting the country squarely in the cross-hairs of China and the United States in their struggle for geo-political supremacy in the region.

The U.S will work with Congress to provide over US$45 million (about K159 million) in new programming as PNG and the U.S enter a new era as “partners for peace and prosperity in the region.”

The U.S will further provide an additional US$10 million (about K35.3 million) to implement the strategy to prevent Conflict and Promote Stability in PNG, bringing total planned funding to US$30 million (about K106 million) over three years.

Blinken and PNG Prime Minister Marape also signed a comprehensive bilateral agreement to counter illicit transnational maritime activity through joint at sea operations, the U.S statement reveals.

“This agreement will enable the U.S Coast Guard’s ship-rider programme to partner with and enhance PNG’s maritime governance capacity.

Marape said before the signing that the agreement would not encroach on the country’s sovereignty.

“The U.S and PNG have a long history, with shared experiences and this will be a continuation of that same path.

“PNG signed a generic SOFA agreement with other countries in 1989 and today with the signing of the defence cooperation and the maritime cooperation (ship-rider agreement) it will only elevate the SOFA.

“And this co-operation will help build the country’s defence capacity and capabilities and also address issues such as illegal fishing, logging and drug smuggling in PNG waters.”

Blinken said the agreement would help PNG mitigate the effects of climate change, tackle transnational crime and improve public health.

“We are proud to partner with PNG, driving economic opportunities and are committed to all aspects of the defence and maritime cooperation,” he said.