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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 28, 2002 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guinea Police task force members and volunteer eviction officers burned down 96 houses and destroyed food gardens as illegal squatters were evicted in Lae.

More than 100 families were left homeless at the weekend. Most watched in tears as police and about 50 volunteer officers, mostly from the Maus Bilong Morobe Association, doused houses with kerosene and set them alight.

The eviction, witnessed and supervised by Provincial Administrator Manasupe Zurenuoc, Lae district administrator Patilias Gamato and acting city manager Steven Peters, was executed after the deadline for the settlers to move out expired last Wednesday.

Mr. Zurenuoc urged the settlers to return to where they originally came from. He said that the squatter area is known to harbor well-known criminals, including those responsible for the killing of Catholic priest Father Hubert Hoffman late last year.

He said the eviction effort will continue on to other illegal settlements and illegally occupied State land in and around the city over the next couple of months.

A woman wept openly and tried to jump into her burning house as family members tried to console her.

Some house owners were not around when their houses were set on fire, and arrived later to find the burned remains of their homes.

The eviction project started at the 4-Mile settlement at 10 a.m. on Saturday, then moved down to 2-Mile and by 4 p.m., the whole area looked like a battlefield, with thick smoke rising from burning houses and felled banana and betelnut trees and various other food crops destroyed.

The only building left standing was the 4-Mile Assemblies Of God Church building belonging to the settlers, which was built under proper leasing arrangements.

The land, stretching from the 4-Mile to 2-Mile area, is owned by the Department of Agriculture and Livestock and was once used to breed cattle.

The settlement elders attempted a last-minute restraining order, citing a letter they had obtained from Gamoga Lawyers at midday on Saturday. However, it was too late.

Mr. Zurenuoc said that it was not an order, and the eviction had to be carried out.

Mr. Zurenuoc said that while he sympathized with the settlers, but they had to understand that they were illegally residing on State land.

"They were also given ample time to move out," he said.

Some settlers claimed that while they were aware of the eviction notices, they were confused over whether or not to move out as some intending election candidates had promised them that the eviction exercise would not take place.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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