By ANGELINE KARIUS
TRUCKLOADS of fully armed soldiers from the Taurama barracks, in Port Moresby, last Saturday ransacked a service station, destroying property worth more than K5 million during a drunken brawl with civilians, The National reports.
An attempt at setting fire to the fuel station – which at the time had more than 80,000 litres of highly inflammable matter – failed.
Port Moresby police said yesterday the brawl started at East Boroko's Baret Club at around midday.
They said three PNG Defence Force soldiers had picked an argument with a member of the public and had chased him on foot towards Manu autoport service station at Korobosea.
He was caught by the three just before he reached the service station and was beaten up.
The fight spilled over to a betelnut market on the opposite side of the road when the man's relatives retaliated against the three soldiers.
Police said it was understood the three immediately returned to the barracks for reinforcements.
According to police, they were joined by 20 to 25 fully armed soldiers in battle gear riding on a Dyna truck and in a LandCruiser.
Police said as the troops arrived at the service station, they started firing their weapons, forcing people at the service station and the betelnut market to duck for cover and flee.
The soldiers then went on a rampage at the service station, smashing five fuel bowsers, looting the mini-mart and taking three days' takings of more than K108,000.
Service station operator and owner Reuben Kandiu put the estimated property damage and looted goods at more than K5 million.
He said his workers had not been involved in the fight and the destruction of his property and theft of goods and money were criminal offences.
Kandiu said the unauthorised discharge of firearms raised serious security concerns in the city.
"As a disciplined force, the incident should have been handled in an appropriate manner and reported to police," he said.
"I appeal to the PNGDF commander Brig-Gen Francis Agwi and commanding officer-in-charge of Taurama to seriously address this type of behaviour as it was not the first time this has happened," he said.
Kandiu said the group of soldiers had tried to burn down the service station but luckily a worker had shut the main valve.
"I had about 34,000 litres of petrol and 53,000 litres of diesel. If the place had been set on fire, it could have spelt disaster for the nearby business houses, homes and the hospital," he said.
The Taurama Barracks, about 5km east of the service station, is the home of the first Royal Pacific Infantry Battalion, where some of the country's finest fighting men are based.
Attempts to contact Taurama barracks were unsuccessful.