Women who died in Karida massacre were community anchors
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Australia should help end tribal violence in PNG

ArmedMITCHELL THOMAS | Organisation for World Peace | Edited

HOUSTON, USA - The remote highlands regions of Papua New Guinea has recently been the subject of international attention in the wake of a brutal massacre.

The remote village of Karida saw an outbreak of tribal violence last week as part of ongoing conflicts in some of the country’s most remote provinces.

While tribal conflict and warfare have historically been an issue for PNG, the rate and escalation of violence has increased in recent years.

This is due in a large part to the provision of high-powered weapons that has led to a marked change in the way conflict has unfolded.

In traditional fighting, there would usually be few deaths. But this new supercharged violence kills many more, including civilians and children. This has also a limiting effects on the provision of aid and medical relief, as it is harder to access remote areas without placing international aid workers in danger.

PNG prime minister James Marape, in whose electorate the events took place, has called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

As recently as 2013, PNG reinstated the death penalty and since then 16 people have been placed on death row but no sentences have been carried out. The international community widely condemns the use of the death penalty.

With modern armaments escalating conflicts, the PNG government needs to review its approach to ensuring violence like this is brought to an end.

Marape has voiced concerns that the country’s police force and security apparatus are in need of reinforcement and must be adequately funded and resourced to handle events like these.

The country hosted the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that provided an opportunity for PNG to put its case to the international community but it was characterised by great power games between the USA and China. Since then, the violence has gotten worse.

The international community, in particular Australia, should look to assist the new prime minister in his attempt to alleviate tribal violence, preferably without imposing the death penalty.

Australian aid remains constant and at a high level and Australia should help the PNG government in this area in its role as a respected middle power.

An initial measure may be to deploy peacekeeping forces, federal police and aid workers from Australia in a similar way Australia was involved in East Timor and the Solomon Islands in the early 2000s.


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Paul Oates

Thanks David. That's a very important point about clan ownership of assets.

There's a number of issues that could be tackled about gun ownership and that's definitely one of the first to be considered.

Taking a helicopter view of the whole issue, some simple steps are the way to go.

The first point that has to be addressed is the ability to fix the current law and order problem. The nation must be able to maintain the peace for society in general. While ever there's a potential threat, people will naturally want to have the means or at least the implied threat to be able to defend themselves.

The issue of clan prestige and pride of ownership can then be logically addressed. Some people have expended a lot of money and energy in acquiring these weapons and that must be recognised and compensated for.

If your enemies and criminals don't have these weapons however, why would you need them yourself? Many Australians have had precious rifles and war mementos handed down to them from previous generations and were very loath to surrender these family heirlooms during the gun amnesty and buyback of the past. It's not as if this would be the case with most PNG families. These weapons have mostly arrived in the last few decades.

Proper compensation must then be offered and in a publically recognised display, give those owning their weapons, a sense of community standing and good intentions by offering them to be handed in.

Perhaps the weapons might be handed back to the owners as trophies of the good, community intentions after they were rendered unworkable, with say the barrels and firing mechanisms welded solid, at a cost to the owners of cause.

The next issue must be to declare automatic weapons and any anti personnel equipment totally illegal, after a short amnesty period. To then have these weapons or equipment in your possession would make you liable and totally open to severe penalties under the law.

The final phase would then be to offer significant rewards for any information about illegal weapons leading to an arrest. Money talks.

The process is not difficult. The will to do it is however something else.

The final aspect that must be addressed is gun security. No official should be allowed to hold their weapon outside of the hours of official duty. No legal weapon should be stored outside of a correctly guarded and locked armoury when not in use. Any departure from this benchmark would have to be authorised by a central, independent government authority on a needs basis only.

David Kitchnoge

Can I dwell specifically on Paul's comment about the successful guns buy back program in Australia and New Zealand.

I think this approach will not work in tribal communities in PNG because those weapons are communal assets much like land. No one individual can sell back the arms for a financial reward without retribution from within.

The arms race is principally to protect one's tribal land from encroachment by another tribe. Like it has always been except that the arms this time are guns and not bows and arrows.

Whereas the approach may have worked down under in an individualistic social setting, I think this would be hard to do in tribal PNG.

The above of course is the situation mostly in the Highlands. But that would not be the case in say Port Moresby or other centres where raskols and others use arms for personal reasons. Perhaps a buy back program might work here.

But I can't see it working in rural communities.

Philip Kai Morre

Using police and the defense force to stop violence and fighting in Tari and the Highlands as a whole will not solve the problem.

There are structural and underlying cultural and psychological issues we need to understand. Violence is a norm to solve a problem but it adds more counter violence.

You need human scientists like psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and ethnographers to study the trends of violence and find out the root cause.

We need to do understand the unresolved hidden conflict and tame our aggressive drive and urges that cause us to create problems.

We need to educate people to change their mentality and become authentic. Violence and aggression are in the subconscious of every person and we need to deal with that and change from within.

Sending forces to Tari province will not solve any problems unless we educate the people through therapy, counselling and self management skills and training.

Involved conflict resolution training and other alternative means to solve problems in the long run.

Paul Oates

As a second bite at the cherry, the difference between a police operation and a military one should be noted. Fighting a war has different rules to fighting crime.

While the PNGDF members may briefly be given some police powers and training, law enforcement is primarily a police matter. Protecting PNG borders is or could be another matter however and that could well be a PNGDF and Border Force responsibility.

In regards to preventing this type of crime in the future, it's not as if the lessons of the past in both Australia and more recently in New Zealand can't be learnt from. Forget the US. They are hopelessly entangled in gun culture.

A gun buy back helped prevent another massacre in Australia to that which recently happened in NZ. The NZ have now followed Australia's lead. No one who was a law abiding gun owner was happy with the program but it does work. Putting a large reward for information about illegal weapons after a buy back amnesty period would also be a great incentive.

Secondly, police and other intelligence has prevented many serious situations from happening recently in Australia. This is the area that the RPNGC needs to further develop and enhance that service's abilities.

David Kitchnoge

Hi Paul - Your diagnosis of the problem is spot on. I think you ordered the elements of the problem from hardest to easiest to deal with.

It will take generations for people to grow out of the cultural aspects of this barbarism – time is the only solution. People will have to learn the hard way to coexist as land and resources become scarce.

Active enforcement of our laws is quite frankly impossible at this stage because of a variety of reasons, but the most obvious being shockingly low police to citizens ratio that is compounded by a hopelessly out-armed constabulary.

There are suggestions that militant groups in the highlands have more sophisticated weapons than police.

Which therefore brings us to the third issue being to disarm illegal militants to give police a fighting chance to combat law and order issues.

I agree that disarming the nation, so to speak, is only the first step in the long and ongoing process of preventing weapons getting into the wrong hands.

We do need to get rid of weapons that are already there and then device preventive measures to ensure no ongoing illegal arms race in the country.

But Papua New Guineans can't do it - we are too compromised. Perhaps a solution might involve the use of a foreign force under emergency laws enacted by PNG parliament with appropriate rules of engagement for members of that external force.

Paul Oates

Hi David - While I do appreciate your sentiments and ardour, I don't immediately think inviting the ADF to conduct a military operation in the PNG Highlands is necessarily the way to go.

A military operation in another country requires some very serious parameters to be agreed on before it is even considered.

There are at least three issues that must be addressed and not necessarily at the same time.

The first is culture and the reasons why these murders and tribal warfare happen. That is not something that can be overturned overnight. Respect for the law will only happen when it can be enforced if necessary and not just by a 'flash in the pan' operation. That's a long term process.

The second is the illegal weapons and this is a real problem. Not only are they currently available but could easily be replaced unless the manner in which they have been obtained is excluded.

Finally, there is the issue of national sovereignty and what status any foreigner has in PNG, officially invited or not.

David Kitchnoge

The most practical help Australia can provide to PNG is to help us implement the Singirok gun report - the first step being to confiscate and destroy all unlicensed firearms.

We need a completely independent party to rid all illegally held firearms, starting from the highlands, then down to all gun totting so called big shots who sponsor the illegal arms race, then to the rest of the country.

Papua New Guineans are too compromised to disarm ourselves. We need ADF to come in and kick a few sorry arses and take their guns away and cut them up and burn them.

Once everyone is disarmed and returned to the same equal footing, then we can talk about arresting killers and jailing them and enforcing the law.

Any other approach would prove futile!

Peter Salmon

Keith - Do you want to publish this article as a follow on to the above, more particularly the pictures just to show how casual this matter of "guns" is including my follow up comment at the bottom of the page.

There is nothing covert about the illegal possession of guns.

Bai mi nap tumara - KJ

Paul Oates

The usual pointing of fingers and the offering of gratuitous advice are signs of a mere ephemeral understanding of why tribal warfare is happening.

Looking beneath the initial and justifiable horror, to suggest the simple imposition of foreign police or security force to reimpose law and order is fanciful at best. At worst, it is patronising and potentially offensive to the PNG authorities.

The hasty imposition of a RAMSI like force on the PNG Highlands is no answer. That would just be a political ‘quick fix’ that’s easy to suggest but ineffective in the long term. The real issue is complex and can’t be solved by simply throwing large lumps of taxpayer aid funds at the problem. Foreign, law enforcement operatives are not the answer, as has been proven in the past.

PNG desperately needs the support of friends who understand what is happening and why? PNG needs people in Canberra who are responsible for overseas aid, to take a deep breath and rethink how that aid is provided, who it is provided to and what the aid is objectively provided to do.

Potential, cosmetic visits by poorly briefed, Australian fact finders will be another waste of time and effort. It might provide great PR photo opportunities but little else. What is desperately required is a real understanding of PNG’s problems and working out achievable solutions in a collaborative, joint approach to help our nearest neighbour wherever possible.

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