PORT MORESBY - More than 100 Papua New Guinea soldiers from Taurama Barracks have arrived in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi after a nine-month state of emergency was declared by the PNG government.
And political leaders from the Southern Highlands – including prime minister Peter O’Neill - apologised to the nation for the “distress” caused by rioting and destruction of state property last week.
Video clips circulating in PNG social media show armed Southern Highlanders, some with assault rifles, challenging the government and threatening the massive PNG liquefied gas pipeline project in the province.
Some protest placards referred to the suspension of the Southern Highlands provincial government and the appointment by Port Moresby of an acting provincial administrator although it was unclear what the full range of their demands were.
One of the unsuccessful petitioners against the election outcome, Joe Kobol, met with O’Neill, Southern Highlands leaders and other stakeholders to apologise to the nation and to address the issues surrounding the events.
O’Neill told the Post-Courier newspaper that “normalcy” was now being restored, saying that all leaders had agreed an independent provincial administrator would be appointed to maintain 'balance and independence' in the province.
“All the leaders of Southern Highlands have met, including Joe Kobol and Pastor Bernard, who also contested the governor’s seat, and we have discussed issues that have caused the burning of state properties because of a court decision last week,” O’Neill said.
“Normalcy is being restored in the province and today we want to apologise to PNG for the recent events that had taken place, mainly out of frustration.
“The leaders and I want to express and apologise for the distress caused. Our country has always enjoyed the peaceful resolution of the leaders."
The Post-Courier’s Johnny Poiya reports that a number of Highlands-based police mobile squad groups and soldiers are also in Mendi strengthening the security forces for the operation.
Eventually 200 additional troops will be deployed to the region.
Eluh was expected to arrive from Port Moresby yesterday to the town he left a couple of months ago when he was removed as acting provincial administrator.
Provincial police commander Joseph Tondop, joint task force commander Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Todick and senior security officers for the emergency operations have met to discuss their operational plans.
Tondop said last yesterday that Mendi "is very much tense [but] there is some law and order right now as we speak."