SEVEN MOTHERS PACK RAPED IN PNG HIGHLANDS ELECTION TRAGEDY

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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 26, 2002 – The National)---Seven mothers pack raped, 10 houses burned down, a Member of Parliament arrested and polling officers refused to submit returns until their allowances are paid.

These are among the dramatic events of the national elections in the Highlands, which also included sketchy reports of two power pylons supplying electricity to the Porgera gold mine being destroyed by angry tribesmen in the Huli area of Southern Highlands province.

In the National Capital District yesterday, People's Democratic Movement party founder Paias Wingti was openly courting re-elected NCD provincial MP Bill Skate. It was a day of drama at the Gordon's Police Gymnasium where counting for the Moresby North-East ballot papers were counted, resulting in the defeat of sitting MP Philip Taku by PDM candidate Casper Wollom.

And all over the country, the complaints are the same. There are no funds to hire helicopters and transport polling teams into remote locations to conduct the elections. This is despite an assurance from Chief Secretary and acting Treasury Secretary Robert Igara that funding was being released.

There have also been calls for election assessors like Australian High Commissioner Nick Warner to travel to remote areas like Kiunga and Lake Murray in Western province to get a first-hand experience of the problems instead of restricting their visits to urban centers where complaints are minimal.

The multiple rape cases occurred in a village in Gumine, Simbu province, last Friday following the killing of a young schoolgirl at a polling station where two council candidates physically assaulted each other over ballot papers.

During the fight, a supporter of a candidate shot off his .22 rifle, which killed the 14-year-old grade six schoolgirl. In retaliation, tribesmen burned down 10 houses of the enemy clan and raped the seven mothers, destroyed food gardens and chopped up seven pigs.

Meanwhile, Gumine sitting MP Joseph Wamil was arrested and taken into custody at the Kundiawa Police station yesterday morning in another incident. He was charged for being possession of an unlicensed pump-action shotgun. Nine of his supporters were also charged for carrying various offensive weapons. They have each been released on cash bail and are awaiting court appearances at the Kundiawa District Court.

Also in the Simbu province, polling officials who are about to conclude elections, are threatening to withhold ballot papers until they are paid their allowances in full.

In Gulf province, Mining Minister and Provincial MP Chris Haiveta yesterday reported that polling officers there were considering holding the returns and ballot boxes ransom until they were paid out their allowances.

The National's reporter Andrew Alphonse, who had just returned from Tari in the Southern Highlands province, reported that two power pylons that supply electricity to the giant Porgera mine in neighboring Enga province were destroyed about two weeks ago.

Porgera mine management could not be contacted to verifying the report.

Meanwhile, in Western province's Kiunga-Lake Murray area, polling officials are still awaiting funds to arrive before boats and helicopters could be chartered to move polling teams and materials. The remote Bundi area in Madang province is also facing a similar situation.

The one-day polling in Enga and Southern Highlands provinces, which were scheduled to start yesterday, have been delayed until tomorrow. However, reports from Enga suggest that there could be serious delays of polling in the more remote areas of the province because of financial problems.

A senior Electoral Commission official flew to Enga yesterday from Port Moresby to attend to the concerns.

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

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