Ad hoc aid: A great way to waste money & encourage corruption
Royal PNG Constabulary, Bryan Kramer & the future of PNG

Fears of a new era of tribal violence in Papua New Guinea

KaridaJO CHANDLER | Guardian Australia | Extract

Link here to Jo Chandler’s full story in Guardian Australia

SYDNEY - The pictures that came out of a remote highlands village in Papua New Guinea two weeks ago were not, at first glance, particularly graphic: bulging cocoons of blue mosquito nets hanging from wooden poles propped along a roadside.

But the story they told was gruesome.

The nets, said the health worker in Karida village who supplied them, held the remains of 10 women, six children and two unborn babies, all hacked to death with machetes⁠ sometime before dawn on 8 July.

The health worker told the Guardian they had not been able to work out which body parts belonged to which person.

The slaughter, which occurred in the mountains of Hela province, about 600 kilometres north west of the PNG capital of Port Moresby, followed the killing of three women and four men in a neighbouring village the day before.

The photographs showed the remains being watched over by a pair of elderly women waving branches – fending off flies in the tropical heat.

This small rite of respect required immense courage. The killings scattered hundreds of terrified people into the surrounding bush, where many remain today.

“I am so worried about my women,” says Janet Koriama, president of the Hela Council of Women over the phone from the local capital of Tari, having just spent a night near the scene of the massacre.

“Families have lost everything,” says Koriama – their food gardens, shelter, clothes. Last Wednesday, Koriama says another woman was killed “and one had her hand cut off while looking for food to feed their hungry children”.

Koriama is desperately trying to enlist defence forces to bring around 2,000 women and children displaced by tribal fighting into shelters she’s coordinating with local churches.

But reports indicate that while soldiers have been deployed as promised by prime minister James Marape, who is also the local MP for the area, their mission is focused on capturing the killers, dead or alive.⁠

Even if they succeed, this will be of little comfort to Koriama and other local leaders fearful about what this massacre signals. While tribal conflict is deep rooted in Hela, they describe what happened in Karida village as unprecedented in lore or memory.

“This, I have never seen in my life,” bereft local chief Hokoko Minape told PNG journalist Scott Waide⁠.

Police Minister Bryan Kramer declared his concern that the killings “changed everything … that it will become the new trend”.

Read the complete article here


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I haven't had anything to do with mining or petroleum developments in PNG for several years now, Dave, but I do recall the proactive approach Oil Search took and how active their community affairs people were everywhere they went. This was in stark contrast to the way Exxon operated.

Quite a few exploration companies also use regular police for security purposes, as do a lot of logging companies. Like Exxon they pay them well and provide good conditions. Unfortunately the loggers also expect the police to take their side against landowners.

Perhaps the whole idea of using police as private security needs to end.

And maybe, as I think you are suggesting, the riot squads need to be reinstated in the Southern Highlands and Hela.

I had a chance to see their methods after I was held up one day. They were, to put it mildly, brutally efficient.

Dave Ekins

You have highlighted an interesting issue, Phil.

Prior to the commencement of the PNG LNG project, the Police Mobile Squad was an extremely feared entity in the Southern Highlands Province (and later the Hela Province).

Their modus operandi at times was brutal – including rape, destruction of crops and livestock and burning of houses. However, they did stop the fighting and brought most of the criminals to heel.

The very threat of their deployment made the clans think twice about fighting and payback. Not only would compensation have to be paid between the warring clans, but all the mobile squad collateral damage usually had to be compensated as well by the owners of the fight.

Early in the construction phase of PNG LNG there was a fight going on adjacent to one of the camps and some of the combatants jumped the fence when they saw a couple of their opposition working in the camp.

The latter fled and the former climbed back over the fence, reassuring the gob-smacked on-lookers that they were quite safe as they were only interested in their enemies.

ExxonMobil head office immediately threatened to halt construction if the State did not guarantee security of the workforce and the upshot was that the mobile squad was deployed throughout the project area to act as the Exxon Mobil armed security force.

They were funded and rationed by Exxon but commanded by their RPNGC hierarchy. They were also asked to restrict their usual slash and burn style of law enforcement.

The project thus became security based, unlike the junior partner, Oil Search, who were, and still are, community affairs based.

Apart from a few token applications of fan-belt therapy to the odd recalcitrant tribesman, the mobile squad gradually became neutered due to curtailment of their normal modus operandi and the good life which included three massive square meals a days, pay allowances and plenty of cards and dart games to play.

The regular police looked on with envy at the life-style of the mobile squad, which may have contributed to their own decline into corruption and ineffectiveness at all levels.

Over the years, the local population were emboldened by their lack of fear of the mobile squad and tribal fights, camp invasions and property destruction became the norm in the project area. They know that no one in the project camps will venture from their secure havens and go out the gate to confront them.

Meanwhile, Oil Search continues to effectively engage with their communities, community affairs staff are the first out the gate if trouble is brewing and they are yet to have a major camp invasion despite over 25 years of operations in the most volatile part of PNG.

Philip Fitzpatrick

This extract from Jo's article sums up the government's priorities in Hela.

“We currently have only 40 police for the whole province,” said Hela Provincial Administrator, William Bando, in the aftermath of the massacre.⁠ “Our Tari-based MS9 [police mobile squad] were taken by Exxon-Mobil to provide security, while our people are dying.”

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