PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 21) - Straight talking has always been the Chief's strength.

More than that, Sir Michael Somare has never lost his knack of talking with the highest and the lowest in the land with perfect equanimity and understanding.

The veteran politician first captured attention when he startled an Australian administration in the challenging lead up to self-government and independence in the sixties of the last century.

Here was a ready-made Papua New Guinean leader, perfectly willing and clearly capable of taking over the reins of government from his Australian colonial "mastas."

No half-baked promises of independence in the misty future for Michael Thomas Somare - the sovereignty of his country was a matter that would not wait indefinitely.

At the same time he showed an impeccable sense of political timing, good judgment of his fellow men, and an innate sense of common decency that inevitably led to him becoming the first and only enduring leader of this nation.

History does occasionally repeat itself, and it has in Sir Michael's case.

That nation has been a reality for 28 years, and once again the Chief is at the helm, facing challenges that could prove impossible to a lesser man.

How much easier it would have been for him to retire and let others take over.

But that would not be in the Somare tradition.

Sir Michael took himself off to Tete settlement on Tuesday, in company with another indefatigable fighter, Lady Carol Kidu.

There he met with some 500 settlers and their families.

He did not mince his words - one more death, and Tete would become a settlement of the past, its people sent to their villages, and all trace of its existence removed.

There will be those who will question why this action was not taken immediately following the obscene death of former National Broadcasting Commission employee Ian Liriope, and the mental and physical torture meted out to most of his family.

That is not Sir Michael's way, for he has never lost the common touch, nor the ability to reach the most disadvantaged in the land.

Take a good look at the remarkable picture we published on our front page yesterday, and observe the expression on the Prime Minister's face, and on the faces of the children around him.

The cynics in our community will dismiss this visit as a political gimmick, designed to show both Sir Michael's leadership qualities, and his political acumen.

The visit achieved both those goals, but without gimmickry or cynicism.

And it did much more.

It was a perfect example of the Chief in action, and aspiring leaders, many of whom have much to learn, should look to their Prime Minister for inspiration.

Whether Sir Michael's stern words and compassion, dispensed in equal proportions, will achieve a peaceful transition for Tete settlement remains to be seen.

The complexities of inter-tribal relations found in such a situation are not easily brought out into the open, and even when they are, they are not readily solved.

But it can be convincingly argued that a visit by a prime minister to a troubled and notorious settlement underlines a number of factors increasingly overlooked.

We are one country.

Whether those of our citizens who are comfortably employed wish to acknowledge it or not, the people of Tete have exactly the same civil rights as the good burghers of Boroko, or Korobosea or Paga Point. 

The PNG constitution guarantees them equality of opportunity.

And it enshrines their right to speak out freely and be heard, and to meet in public and air their concerns.

These freedoms were not reserved for the elite, but were created for the masses.

It would be a foolish and unfeeling observer who failed to recognize that the marginalizing of the settlement people, and their rejection by the bulk of the rest of the population, is a prime cause of the criminal outrages that erupt from time to time.

It seems to us that when Sir Michael visited Tete settlement, he walked the tightrope with consummate skill, avoiding both a rigid and threatening laying-down of the law on the one hand, and bleeding-heart liberalism on the other.

We congratulate the Prime Minister on his initiative.

November 24, 2003

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