CARDIFF - Good Friday was a beautiful Tari day with 100% visibility in a cloudless sky.
I was the agent for Air Nuigini and Tal Air but, having only one expected flight due for arrival, I had given my workers the day off as I felt I could cope with a single plane.
I sat in my battered 1½ tonner not long before the flight was due and glanced around the idyllic Southern Highlands' scenery from the distant mountain at Ambua Gap to the greenery of the valley.
It was then I noticed a curling pillar of dark smoke rising along the rough road to Koroba. There was another stretching heavenward on the road to the SDA Mission and a third towards Dauli College.
It was then I recalled we were going through yet another wave of criminal activity and inter-clan fights. The small detachment of police in Tari had been given assistance with the arrival of one or two riot squads.
On this Holy Day the police were involved in their routine collective punishment of homes suspected of being connected with alleged criminals. The three black smoke columns rising in the balmy air was the government at work.
Collective punishment is prohibited under the worldwide reach of the Geneva Convention. Yet in 1984 it was alive and operated regularly throughout Papua New Guinea in the worst troublespots.
Later that day I spoke with a young Papua New Guinean pilot who was trying to earn a living flying his little single-engine plane mostly on charters to and from Ok Tedi mine.
Normally Tal Air overflew Tari on its regular journeys from Mendi, Hagen and on to Tabubil. As Tal Air agent I had tried to get them to land for a couple of passengers when they had space but was told by my boss in Hagen that they to both get permission from the mining company and more importantly only people with a proper mine identification would be allowed on the plane.
The young Tari pilot was almost in tears as he told me of how the police had come and began to burn the little group of homes in his family’s compound. This ‘punishment’ included his semi-permanent house which he used as his office and where he stored his manuals, files and other office material.
The police eventually left his house standing among the charred ruins of the rest of the compound where the people had also lost chickens and pigs, one of which had been thrown by a policeman into the blazing remains of a hut.
My Good Friday was spoilt by my seeing those pillars of black smoke but also, just as I was single-handedly servicing the expected Air Niugini flight, a Tal Air charter flight arrived and had to be refuelled as did an unscheduled single-engine private aircraft.
I had never had three planes on the ground at the same time and felt quite a hero. It was famously one of the few days I built up a healthy sweat at Tari’s altitude of 5,000 feet.
The conjunction n of the torchings and the airfield clamour have riveted that day in my mind.
Does Papua New Guinea still have those riot squad barbecues or is it only Israel that is allowed to continue to break the Article 33 ‘Collective Punishment’ prohibition of the Geneva Convention?