The things that matter
Interlude: ‘Kaime, embame kanda’

After 8 years of terror, Alotau says ‘enough’

Tommy Baker
Tommy Baker has masterminded a reign of murder, robbery and intimidation in Alotau since 2013

KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – Milne Bay is a big province with a small police force. The locals are said to be good at harbouring criminals. And the most notorious and successful of these is Tommy Maeva Baker.

Baker, who has developed expertise in guerrilla-style hit and run tactics, heads a gang of up to 100 men who engaged in murder, plunder and arson.

He and his gang started their reign of terror in Alotau in 2013 – killing anyone who got in their way and committing dozens of robberies.

He was captured briefly in September 2018 but faked a knee injury and escaped from Port Moresby General Hospital. Since then he’s been a fugitive.

From time to time gang members have been arrested, and some killed, but Baker has proven elusive and his activities, including many attacks on police and their families, persistent.

Much of the population lives in fear of him and police are also feared for their reputation of brutalising the community in their hunt for him.

In February a gang member, Gabby, suspected of killing a policeman in Alotau in 2016, was wounded and later killed by police on what was apparently his regular errand to buy supplies for Baker.

In mid-March some 70 members of the Baker gang retaliated, attacking a police station. They were repelled after a six-hour gun battle.

Then late last week, the gang had another go and burned down the police barracks in Alotau.

But an important issue seems to be the collusion between criminal gangs and some police and even senior politicians.

A Milne Bay source told me that, when the last two People’s National Congress governments were being sorted out at ‘camp’ in Alotau, “political leaders engaged the police and criminals for security”.

This was "normal in PNG" during a government's formation.

“They promised to pay them millions [for security] and never did, so it’s turning back to bite their tail,” the source said.

“They see politicians supporting Asians in business so they are fighting the Asians as well. Their fight is not against Milne Bay people but against politicians.

“Leaders are turning to police and telling them its law and order problem, come flush them out, however they created the scene in the beginning.”

John Greenshields, who has visited Alotau since 1966, has been discussing the violence with friends who have lived in Milne Bay for 46 years.

“Authorities need to talk to Tommy Baker and see what he wants,” they conclude.

“Guns won’t solve the problems. I expect he might say, we need jobs, housing, proper education and health systems, and an end to corruption.”

But residents also believe that Milne Bay authorities need to ask the Papua New Guinea government for an external police intervention like the RAMSI mission that extinguished similar criminal activities in the Solomons in an operation that lasted from 2003 to 2017.

Australia had spent years saying it would not intervene in a growing crisis in the Solomons, but changed its mind as security fears grew about a South Pacific ‘arc of instability’.

First regarded with suspicion, the RAMSI mission proved very popular with Solomon Islanders and has so far created an enduring stability in the country.

Footnote

Aljazeera Television has just produced a documentary, The Gangs of PNG, that offers excellent insights into the operations of one of Port Moresby's most active criminal gangs. Link to it here

Comments

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Christopher Usuka

It has been the issue of Governance and opportunities. Governance as in providing essential basic services in health, education infrastructures connecting people to access finance and socioeconomic development. Opportunities for the young people to participate as citizens to take care of their welfare as in education and employment opportunities. Four decades ago, the same public servants remain in their posts until death. The young graduates mostly are unemployed with increased population over the years. Most have to fend for themselves in whatever opportunities arises to get paid job or into informal marketing to take care of their needs. It's about time the DSIPs and PSIPs are distributed fairly for people's physical and economical survival for the increasing population at the rural and urban centers. It's about time National Government sanction laws on retirement age so young people graduating from colleges and universities get employed in a given period of time. It's about time young people participate economically and socially in their communities. When they are disengaged and left to fend for themselves they rebel against their parents, communities and the government. Crime and violence is associated with youth between the ages of 18-25 and even as young as 12. The only option to reduce and control such climantries is focus a nation wide social and economic program on the youth graduating from colleges and universities and the disengaged in the urban settlements and the villages. When the youth are engaged in any formal activities to take care of themselves in finance and welfare. We would at least find the comfort and peace in our communities.

Rob Parer

Thanks Keith,Alotau of all places as for years everyone was told best place in PNG for visitors as very safe.!!

harry topham

This morning the ABC reported that a major conflict broke out with the police and crims engagd to full scale conflict.
The response from the Government is to declare Baker a terrorist and to send in the army to sort things out.
Unless handled with care and ensuring the Army plays by the rules this problem has perhaps the potential to escalate into some form of civil war.
To thinks that all those years ago Milne bay was regardedd as a R & R sanctuary for poor old jaded kiaps suffering from stress.

John Greenshields

Some feedback from Milne Bay to me:
___________

"They raped a nurse to death last week... Stealing groceries from villagers and throwing them out of dinghies in the ocean to drown... Robbing marketers of their vegetables and money out of PMVs and bashing them...
How are these actions explained by this paradigm in the article?"

"This country is failing and it's the responsibility of the leaders to figure out how to pick it back up.”
___________

"I don’t really care if he [Baker] hates Asians. They smashed the PNG owned businesses as well as the Asian ones. These guys aren’t operating from a higher moral ground. They’re poor, they’ve found a way to get money and they’re taking it.

"Many many more PNG'ans are hurt by their actions than foreigners. The cops are just as bad. It’s no surprise that in kids games of Task Force vs Tommy Baker the cops are not the good guys.

"But while this is a macro economic issue at heart, the Bandaid needs to be applied first to protect people from criminals. The higher level stuff almost feels too hopeless to imagine it getting fixed!“
___________

It is complex. The people of New Hanover [Lavongai] and Alotau are waiting for some real, long-term solutions to their problems.

I believe that PNG does not have the financial or institutional resources to fix them.

Arthur Williams

I just wonder why everyone is concerned about Alotau but ignores Lavongai Island aka New Hanover that has had 100 murders in five years and thousands internally displaced.

2020/07/08 Concerns over effect of fighting since 2000 on Lavongai that has 100 murdered- Police powerless unless funded (National of PNG)

ABOUT 100 people have been killed and 500 houses burnt in an ongoing conflict in New Ireland that needs government intervention to quell it, acting provincial police commander Snr Insp Gabriel N’Drihim says.

“A policeman was killed in 2017 and thousands of villagers have been displaced, seeking refuge in the surrounding islands in the Tigak Group of Islands and also in Kavieng town since this conflict started in 2000,” he said.

"n 2014, a mobile squad from Tomaringa police barracks in East New Britain was deployed to quell the situation. However, they failed and returned.

"There have already been about 15 peace talks but all were unsuccessful.

"This conflict between two villages in Lavongai on New Hanover Island has been going on since 2000.

"If it was in the Highlands, the national government would have already declared a state of emergency and deployed a police mobile squad and PNG Defence Force soldiers to address it.”

L Dingle

The local Catholic priests dwelling was broken into a few weeks ago in Alotau. All the priests were assaulted and are traumatised and had money and goods stolen.

I was in Alotau in 2018 at the invite of a famous elderly priest. He would not allow me to get into a car with police. The locals said they simply do not trust them.

Philip Kai Morre

Milne Bay used to be a quiet place and a place for tourism but now it is much more worse than most provinces in PNG. Can we classify Baker's gang as criminals or the victims of circumstance?

We don't need Australians or New Zealanders or Indonesians to solve our problems. It's a local problem that needs local solutions.

Tommy Baker and his group know their problems and they know the solutions as well. We only need a high authority to mediate and find workable solutions.

There has to be a proper dialogue where politicians and church leaders must agree and work on. We need to analyse and find the root cause of these deviant crimes and mentalities.

These criminal activities are motivated by greed and selfish political motivation. The criminal activities in Milne Bay are related to politics and personal ego using criminals to escape from reality.

John Greenshields

Two comments from Alotau:

"All quiet last night, but Baker's parents' house was burnt to the ground yesterday, so it's not over yet. He will be back!"

"Baker knows if he gives himself up the police will bash him to death for humiliating them for so long."

This situation needs a peacemaker. Australia did so in East Timor and Solomons. True PNG leaders need to consider asking for help.

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