The family of a Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) soldier who was shot dead in a “tragic accident” during a training exercise last week are calling for greater transparency from the PNGDF in investigating his death.
- Twelve people have been arrested over the shooting death of two PNG soldiers during a training exercise last Tuesday
- The use of live ammunition instead of blank rounds is being investigated by police, defence
- The sister of Eric Gwale says she learned of his death after photos of his body were shared online
Leading Seaman Eric Gwale and Corporal Watata Kutegen were shot dead during the early morning exercise last Tuesday at Kupiano Station in Central Province.
Police and PNGDF are investigating the use of live ammunition during the exercise, with blank rounds meant to be used during training.
Police said 12 people have been arrested over the incident and the soldier who discharged the live ammunition has been identified.
It’s expected he could be charged, and investigators are looking into whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Disrespectful online posts
Mr Gwale’s sister Erica Kaumi said photos of his body were already on social media before the family were notified of his death.
“The family wasn’t notified properly,” Ms Kaumi said.
“The news was already trending on social media … people starting calling us and crying,” she said.
“Pictures of him lying in Kupiano in uniform were taken and posted on social media.
“There was no respect at all for his body.”
Some live ammunition allowed
On Wednesday, PNGDF Commander Mark Goina said he hadn’t spoken to the families and described the incident as a “tragic accident”.
“The activity was a dawn raid on an enemy position in the vicinity of Kupiano station, where a group of soldiers was acting as an ‘enemy party’,” Mr Goina said.
“The enemy party, as is common practice, opened fire on the assaulting group.
“This commenced at 05:45, at some point it was realised something had gone tragically wrong and the exercise was immediately stopped.”
Royal Papua New Guinea Police Constabulary (RPNGC) and PNGDF have begun their own investigations.
The commander said PNGDF will investigate the use of live rounds, which are issued to some soldiers for “safety and security”.
“Live ammunitions were issued to certain members of the ‘enemy party’, including the directing staff,” he said.
“How it got to the person that was responsible … is being investigated at this point in time.”
A ‘sweet’ family man
Speaking on behalf of the family, Mrs Kaumi remembered Mr Gwale, who joined the PNGDF in 2012 as a man who “absolutely adored” his wife and three sons.
“He’s a sweet brother … he’d do anything to protect us,” she said.
“If you hadn’t seen him for a while, you’d be sure he’d come and pay you a visit and have a drink with you.
“My brother was in the prime of his life, he was just 33 years old.”
She said the family felt the PNGDF had given them the “run-around” in trying to get information about what had happened, and what’s being done.
“My brother served the state faithfully … he deserves some respect, he deserves the PNGDF to take the lead on everything,” she said.
“There’s no empathy at all in this entire thing, it’s unacceptable.”
The PNGDF investigation is expected to be completed by next week.