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Diary of an election: death & destruction in Enga

Vehicles and store burning in WabagDANIEL KUMBON

I AM terribly sorry I cannot I attend the Sunshine Coast international readers and writers festival.

Even if my new book, ‘Survivor – Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms’, a collection of three true stories about women in Enga Province, had been published on time, I would not have been able to travel to Australia.

My family and I have been confined to our house for the last few days due to shocking election-related violence, death and destruction in Wabag town where I live.

The violent scenes I witnessed many years ago and described in my new book were played out again in Wabag last Saturday.

Three political supporters and two policemen were shot dead. A third policeman was airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment. The assistant returning officer for Kandep and two other people are in critical condition in Wabag hospital. Returning officer, Ben Besawe narrowly escaped death when the vehicle he was travelling in was sprayed with bullets.

There have been continuous gunshots for the last few days as security forces and supporters of some Kandep candidates exchange fire.

I saw social media images of a gunman shot dead and lying in a ditch after he had three men, including two policemen, and injured another mobile squad member staying at Kids Inn at Sangrap.

I have seen smoke billowing from burning shops and cars and people running for cover in the small township.

Yesterday, Monday, police commissioner Gary Baki flew in with reinforcements bringing some normalcy to the town and allowing people to breathe easier.

He enforced a lockdown, restricting movement of traffic and people until Friday when all ballot boxes will have been counted for the Enga regional seat and the Wabag, Wapenamanda and Laiagam seats.

The Kompiam-Ambum electorate has seen John Pundari win back his seat. Kandep counting has been suspended indefinitely.

This record of events is from my diary:

Wednesday 19 July:  Heard about 12 gunshots early this morning. Heard 21 remaining ballot boxes for Kandep had been tampered with last night. Right now Alfred is leading with over 15,000 votes followed by Don Polye on 11,000 votes. Don Polye’s base vote boxes have reportedly not been counted yet. Went into town at about midday. I took a short-cut up a steep gradient. But police and soldiers at the top turned me back. They said Wabag town was shut down due to last night’s problems. I turned back, walked up to the Porgera bus stop and turned right towards the BSP Bank. Everything was closed. Wabag was a ghost town.

Thursday 20 July:  Yesterday there were gunshots. But today security forces have secured the town. Some services like the bank, shops and post office are open again.

Friday 21 July: There is dancing in the street. I hear John Pundari has been re-elected to the Kompiam Ambum Seat. The ballot boxes for Kandep are still disputed, not counted yet. Wonder what Ben Besawe is doing. I am sure he will be neutral and think about people’s lives first. Many have suffered and over 100 people died following the 2012 election violence. That wasn’t long ago.

Saturday 22 July:  Julie has just told me about a bad dream she had last night. I decided if I should go home to Kandep today. But she said I must wait till next week. Lucky I didn’t go. Between 7am – 8am there were many gunshots coming from the Lankep area to the north. It seemed as if there was a war on. Soon there were reports of casualties. There were reports that Ben Besawe, Kandep returning officer, his assistant George Marke and a couple of others in their car had been ambushed outside their hotel and shot dead. They were travelling in a ten-seater to Wabag Primary School to resume counting. Supporters of Don Polye were said to be responsible.

A while later there were more shots. This time in the direction of Sangurap to the west. Soon there were reports of casualties. Two supporters of Alfred Manase were shot dead by police. One of them had shot dead three policemen before he was killed. The same gunman had first shot dead one of Don Polye’s supporters. Then police had shot off one of his legs. While bleeding in a storm water drain opposite the Kids Inn, he shot the three policeman perhaps to avenge himself before he died. A little later I heard George Marke was still in critical condition but not dead as reported earlier. And Ben Besawe was lucky to be alive after he missed a bullet aimed at him.

Heard more gun shots. Heard two men lying dead in a drain at Sangurap. Saw pictures of them lying there in the drain on Facebook. Terrible, sad day for Enga. I see police choppers hovering in the air. I saw the car used to attack Ben Besawe and George burn on Lankep Street. It had been abandoned on the street and the assailants had escaped into the notorious Kop Creek gorges. Then I hear two policeman had been shot dead by a gunman. A third was fighting for his life. Why kill policemen who come to protect us to conduct our stupid election in safety?

My own brother, the late Inspector Peter Pyaso, was killed by Lakain tribesmen in Kompiam when he went to stop a tribal fight there in 1992 with his Mobile Squad 9. I am always upset when people kill policeman. Why kill them when they try to maintain peace? I saw several police cars travelling in a convoy remove bodies from the morgue and taken to Mommers Soccer oval. Saw chopper take the bodies away towards Mt Hagen. Very sad sight.

Later in the afternoon, heard gun shots very near my house. I cannot count how many shots were fired. All my family crammed into one room terrified. A few of us ventured outside minutes later. I saw dark brownish smoke bellowing into the air. People said two of Alfred Manase’s cars and two others belonging to the local Apiap tribesmen were burning. A store belonging to a young Apiap man was also burning. Very sad.

“It takes a long time to make a man. Why shoot policeman down like this,” a woman heard a policeman say while mourning his colleague’s deaths. How true, why all this wanton killing? At 6pm, I saw a news bulletin on EMTV news confirming that the two policeman killed were from Special Operations Mobile police based in Mt Hagen. A third had been airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment.  I saw Don Polye condemning the carnage on EMTV news that same evening. It’s a sad, sad day indeed.

Sunday 23 July:  I hear police commissioner Gary Baki will come to Wabag tomorrow. At 3am heard more gunshots – about 6-10 in all. People attempting to destroy ballot papers? Attempting to take revenge? Fed up hearing gunshots. By daybreak, I hear birds singing as sweetly as ever, as if nothing happened yesterday. Life goes on?

Monday 24 July: Saw a lone chopper flying in. Gary Baki must be coming. I have been at home all day today and during the weekend. With the police commissioner here I feel enlightened. He is encouraging his men to complete the task at hand – which is complete providing security so counting can be completed despite losing two of their number and one fighting for his life. I must applaud the police, brave and committed.

As an educated elite from Kandep, I personally feel that counting should be suspended for the good of all village people until 2022. The governor and administrator of the province can run the affairs of this unfortunate district for the next five years. The people do not seem deserving of a representative in parliament.

Over 100 people lost their lives and millions of kina worth property following the 2012 national elections and it looks like more people will die this time round if counting is continued and a winner is declared. Indefinite suspension of counting will satisfy all parties and vast majority of Kandep people. Let no more people die in a struggle for only one man to enjoy power.


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Sakias Tameo

Hi Daniel, below is a facebook message I posted in response to comments posted by Robert Leo regarding the election in Kandep.

My thoughts closely align to your conclusion, posted at Kandepan Network on 15 October 2016, 7.45am.

I always foresaw it coming and am not surprised by what's going on.


Bro Robert Leso, I got the solution for you and other peace loving Kandepens. That is - we suspend elections in Kandep for the next 10/15 years and you will see the difference.

To me, politics is the main cause creating divisions and conflicts between our people.

We can have elections in future when:

- we reach the time when we prepared to have free and fair elections,

- our people can choose whoever they want as their leader without intimidation,
- intending or serving leaders respect the wishes of the people and are prepared to accept whatever results through free and fair elections, and

- serving and intending candidates stop manipulating the electoral system and other illegal means to steal the leadership of Kandep.

These are my thoughts towards addressing the main cause of the killings and destruction that Kandep is currently going through. But every Kandepen is entitled to his/her own views.

Having shared the above thoughts about whether it is politics or other causes, let us share thoughts on what we can do to support real positive actions on the ground.

Public awareness is fine but we must go beyond that with action.

John K Kamasua

All the violence and drama is intimately tied to the way the elections have been planned and conducted.

There is so much problem with this election that I do not know why it is not called failed yet!!

`Daniel Kumbon

Just heard now (Wednesday 26th 10am) a body was discovered by the notorious Kop Creek in Wabag town yesterday (25th Tuesday).

He was reportedly killed during last Saturday’s election violence.

This brings the number to six (6) including the two policemen killed.

Meanwhile, counting is progressing smoothly.

Declarations are expected for Wabag, Wapenamanda, Laiagam, Kandep and the regional seat before Friday this week.

Garry Roche

Daniel escaped from the lion's den.
May you Daniel also survive.

Ed Brumby

Terrific (in the real sense of the word) reporting, Daniel. So sorry you wont be able to attend the Sunshine Coast literary festival. Stay safe!

`Daniel Kumbon

Counting has been allowed to continue for all districts in Enga including Kandep.

The race is definitely on between THE’s Don Polye and PNC’s Alfred Manase.

Both have scored over 16,000 votes so far while the third is at 6,000 plus.

One of these two men will be declared winner before Friday this week.

I sincerely hope peace will prevail in Kandep.

Joe Herman

Great reporting. Be safe, kaim.

Bernard Corden

Dear Daniel, You are doing a tremendous job and your reporting is reminiscent of Wilfrid Burchett.

Johnny Blades

Take care. Thanks for your great writings.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Keep your head down Daniel.

We'll explain why you aren't there on August 11.

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