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Call for extra security in Hela before national elections

Hela villages are protected by trenches and gates (Johnny Blades)RADIO NEW ZEALAND INTERNATIONAL

THE spectre of tribal fighting is a constant in Papua New Guinea's Hela Province where villages are typically protected by trenches and tightly guarded gates.

And there remains an urgent need for bolstered security in Hela, according to its deputy governor.

Thomas Potobe's comment came after a military and police call-out last year to a province plagued by tribal conflict and a build-up of high-powered firearms.

In late December, 300 police and military personnel were deployed to the region which is central to the country's US$19 billion LNG gas project.

As the call-out wound down last month, police and Hela authorities admitted the corresponding guns amnesty was only a partial success.

Mr Potobe warned that since the last elections in 2012 tribal tensions in the area have worsened.

"This time I think there'll be fighting all over the place in the province," Mr Potobe said. "Last year we had big fights in the province and at the moment now we cannot manage it.

"It's very important. We need more security personnel on the ground."

Last month, PNG police Commissioner Gary Baki floated the idea of recruiting hundreds of ex-servicemen to Hela to help address the lawlessness and fighting.

Mr Potobe said the plan was requested by the Hela provincial government, but it was clear that neither provincial nor national government had the money to pay for this.

He confirmed fears that lingering tension in and around the provincial capital could escalate again.

"Not only in Tari but also the Highlands around. We need more security on the ground, including Tari," he said.

"The view of the province, and the electorate, for me, it does not look good for the new elections."

Last month, Mr Baki told RNZI that in a change from previous polls, provincial police commands, rather than national headquarters would coordinate policing in each province during elections.

But he insisted there would be extra provision made for additional police presence in security hot-spots such as Hela.

Echoing this, the government's chief secretary Isaac Lupari said that securing the LNG project area remained a priority, suggesting an increased police deployment in coming weeks was possible.


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Stella Mutanuisika

In Kenya we experienced a very hard and bad time after 2007 general election. Citizens were divided into tribes and the violence was real.

God help my country as we go for another election 8/8/2017 that we may experience peace.

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