PNG CALLS ON TROOPS TO STAMP OUT ELECTION VIOLENCE

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By Mark Forbes

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 10, 2002 – The Age)---The Papua New Guinea military has been called out in a last-ditch effort to combat growing election violence in the volatile Highlands, as continuing disruptions forced the declaration of the poll to be delayed until the end of the month.

In the latest incident, a candidate and one of his aides were shot dead by supporters of his opponents in the Southern Highlands town of Mendi, bringing the unofficial death toll from election-related violence to 19.

The involvement of the military comes despite concerns over the loyalty of the Defense Force, after renegade soldiers escorted candidates in the Highlands and pressured for votes.

Police Commissioner Joseph Kupo said he requested the mobilization in response to weekend killings, violence that closed Mount Hagen airport and the theft of ballot boxes from a police station in the town of Tari by a heavily armed mob.

Armed soldiers were necessary to enable the counting to proceed and the election to conclude, Mr. Kupo said.

Despite stating on Monday that writs would be returned so Parliament could sit to form a new government on July 15, the Electoral Commission yesterday called on the Governor General for an extension until July 29.

Election-related violence and protests by electoral staff has prevented any counting in some Highlands electorates.

Mr. Kupo said concerns over the troops' loyalty meant he was reluctant to call for assistance, but police were now "stretched to the limit" in the Highlands.

Defense Force commander Peter Ilau knew the identities of the renegade soldiers and was doing everything he could to control the matter, Mr. Kupo said.

"I am confident he will give me the best men, who are loyal to their command and the government of the day," he said.

The presence of firearms throughout the Highlands posed a serious threat to the lives of police and polling officials and the callout was necessary to protect them, and democracy, he said.

"The reports of numerous election-related deaths, hijacking and tampering of ballot boxes throughout the Highlands, the destruction of bridges and setting up of barricades, and the rampage by marauding clansmen in Mount Hagen, which has left a trail of destruction, warrants heightened government security," Mr. Kupo said.

Supporters of a losing candidate in one of the two declared Highlands electorates were behind violent protests that closed Mount Hagen airport. The protesters claimed 5,000 supporters had not been included on the electoral roll.

Shots were fired throughout Monday night.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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