Australia on risky mission in Papua New Guinea
PORT MORESBY - A first contingent of Australian police arrived in Papua New Guinea on Sunday to start a risky law-and-order mission in the troubled Pacific nation.
Around 18 police officers arrived by plane to start the $800-million mission under which 210 police officers will be deployed.
Another 64 senior civil servants with powers to root out corruption and tighten the country's finances are due to join the misson.
The plan is part of a more aggressive Australian policy aimed at helping faltering states in the Pacific before they become havens for organised crime or international terrorists.
Last year Australian forces spearheaded a 2,000-strong military intervention in the neighboring Solomons, where four years of ethnic strife had left the government on the brink of collapse.
Papua New Guinea, a nation of 5.2 million divided up into more than 700 tribal groups, has been wracked by political instability and mismanagement since independence from Australia in 1975.
High unemployment has fueled rampant crime in Port Moresby and major regional towns, where crime gangs known as "raskols" operate from poverty- stricken shantytowns.
Tribal warfare in the mountain highlands is frequent and the country faces an Aids crisis that threatens to take on southern African proportions.
A wealth of oil, mineral and agriculture resources has failed to translate into funds for health, education and other public services amid widespread charges that generations of politicians have siphoned off available money for themselves and their tribal constituencies.
The first group of Australian policemen will be deployed to Port Moresby and Bougainville, an island province that remains troubled three years after a peace deal formally ended a bloody 10-year war separatist war.
The rest of the 210-member contingent will deploy from September to March, primarily in Port Moresby but also along the dangerous Highlands Highway which serves as an economic lifeline between the resource rich mountains of central PNG and the port city of Lae.