UPNG STUDENTS TELL OF HORROR NIGHT OF POLICE KILLING

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Papua New Guinea's Commission of Inquiry into the Students Protest and Police Killing opened on August 22, 2001.

By Harry Aurere Editor of UPNG's Uni Tavur and a former exchange journalism student at the University of the South Pacific Special report for Wansolwara Online

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 4, 2001 – Wansolwara Online/Pasifik Nius)---"I just couldn't stop crying. The sound of gunshots woke me from my deep sleep . . .

"Dear Mum and Dad, I disobeyed your advice and took part in this tragic event. I hope you understand . . ."

These leads begin articles by two second-year University of Papua New Guinea journalism students in the latest edition of the Uni Tavur journalism newspaper. They were written by Wanita Wakus and Estella Cheung.

The front page recalled the horror of the night of June 26, 2001:

"By sunrise, Port Moresby came under siege. Four people, including two students from UPNG, had been shot dead. Their bodies were driven to the Port Moresby General Hospital morgue. Seventeen protesters with pellet wounds were admitted to the hospital's emergency ward."

Last week, journalism students Wanita Wakus and Estella Cheung, and other students, relived their nightmare, telling their stories to the Commission of Inquiry into the Students' Protest and the Police Killing.

The commission was set up to find out whether:

The inquiry began with the questioning of the Students Representative Council (SRC) president Augustine Molonges, vice-presidents (male) Karloga Gima, (female) Ruth Punei, and treasurer Regina Sagu.

On Friday, August 24, the two journalism students told what they had seen.

During the cross-examination, Wanita Wakus told the commissioner, Justice Sir Robert Woods, that on the morning of June 26, about 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., she saw students walking towards where gunshots were coming from with their hands on their heads.

Estella Cheung said she was on the fourth floor of the female students residence called Tuluan when she saw students walking towards the police with their hands on their heads when they were shot.

She said during the gunfire earlier in the night she was shot at with what she believed was a rubber bullet because her arm was bruised and later become swollen.

Another student, Grace Wemin, a fourth-year social work student, said that on the night of June 25 outside Morauta Haus she saw policeman Geoffery Vaki telling the students that they had 15 minutes to "clear out."

She said Vaki had told her that he had run out of patience and he had already given the crowd 10 minutes to move.

On Wednesday, August 29, Vabury Morea, a final-year psychology student, gave her testimony that on the night of June 25 then commissioner Tom Kulunga gave orders and there was a loud bang with gunshots and teargas.

Police officers then ran onto the crowd and kicked the students while they were still sitting.

A policeman butted me on my left check and kicked me on my left thigh . . I was about to loose consciousness when a friend pulled me up to run, Wemin said.

Then early on Tuesday morning, June 26, from her room, she saw policemen firing and students taking cover.

The commission also heard that the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary was "inadequate" and "ill trained" to control demonstrations.

A police traffic officer, Peter Turner, said that police in PNG need more protective clothing such as helmets, shields and batons to adequately control unrest such during the student protests.

When asked by the commissioner, Justice Sir Robert Woods, whether police did get retrained in handling similar crowd problems, Turner said: "Never, only active units, which are the Mobile and the Task Force units."

Alex Tongayu, a fourth-year law student, told the commission that he was awakened by the sounds of continuous gunshots at about 4 a.m. on June 26.

He said he saw armed police officers at the university's forum square firing several rounds of ammunition and teargas when they saw the students.

He said he and his fellow students raised their hands in surrender above their heads and walked towards the police officers.

Suddenly his fellow students fled, leaving him and a friend, Bill Kapen, behind. They were also about to flee when they heard a gunshot and then he realized that he was bleeding from his head.

He was then punched and butted in the face when he was about to help Bill who crying for help after pellets hit him on the face.

He was taken to the Waigani police station. Later, he realized that he was in the hospital.

Bill Kapen, a fourth-year commerce student, said he was wounded with pellets to his forehead and chest.

He identified the police officer who attacked them as Amban Ape, from the Western Highlands, who is attached to the Mount Hagen riot squad.

The police officer booted me and used his gun butt to hit me on the head and knees, despite the fact that I was bleeding from a wound from my chest and head.

They both tendered their medical certificates to the commission.

Another student told the commission that he lost four front teeth after he was allegedly shot with a teargas gun in a residence next to Waigani BP service station.

Dickson Kunini, a first-year science student, said they were peacefully marching with the bodies of the students who were killed earlier when they were stopped by the police, including the National Capital District/Central commander Raphael Huafolo.

Kunini said that after negotiations, the commander refused the students' plea to take the bodies to Waigani (Morauta Haus). Huafolo then ordered the police to fire at the crowd.

He said he was ordered out of the residence that he was in and was verbally abused.

"One of the officers then aimed a teargas gun at me and fired . . . That was when I lost my front tooth," he said.

He was taken to the hospital to receive treatment.

In the same hearing, Toi Dalema, a second-year political science student told the inquiry that on the night of Monday, June 25, more than 20 policemen in helmets and bullet proof vests, holding teargas guns and assault rifles, arrived with the current NCD/Central Commander, Geoffery Vaki, and the then commander, Tom Kulunga.

"After the third warning, the police began firing teargas. Some of them booted mothers . . .belted the girls and mothers with babies, who were in front of us."

The period from Tuesday, August 22, to Friday, August 31, was given to students to testify before the commission.

Title -- 3392 JUSTICE: UPNG students tell of horror night of police killing Date -- 4 September 2001 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Wansolwara Online, 4/9/1 Copyright -- USP Journalism Status -- Unabridged

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