By Frank Senge Kolma and Philip Dowa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Dec. 3) - Four homes were burned to ashes yesterday at Lae's Hunter Settlement by Ahi landowners in a pay back for a robbery last week.

About 500 men, women and children from Butibam, Hengali, Sipaia, and Yanga villages descended upon the settlement at about 11 a.m. yesterday demanding to be given four men whom they suspected had robbed a pastor's mother.

The crowd beat up four men and set the homes ablaze in the second of landowner retaliation against crime within the city precincts.

Two weeks ago, Labu villagers from the city's western fringes took to the streets in a rowdy demonstration against the killing of one of their members at the main market by pick pockets. The market remained closed yesterday.

Last Thursday, at about 10 am, Mrs Kahata, the mother of Lutheran pastor Ruddy Kahata, was robbed of K300 in offering money for the family as she was walking along a bush path with her children to Sipaia village. The pastor's family is from Hengali in Butibam which lies east of Lae city center.

She told The National yesterday the robbers had no masks on their faces and she was able to identify all of them.

"They were youths from the settlement," she said.

Names of the suspects were given to leaders at Hunters Settlement to hand over to authorities but despite daily visits to the settlement, nothing had happened.

Yesterday, in frustration, the landowners set upon the settlement and set ablaze the four houses which they suspected to have harbored the suspects.

Four young men were also beaten up badly by the crowd but it could not be ascertained immediately if they were the same four they were after. 

The National talked to one who appeared to have suffered broken ribs and a stab wound to the buttock. 

He said: "Mi no mekim wanpela samting. Mi inosen man. Ol paitim mi nating tru. (I did not do anything. I am innocent. They beat me up for nothing.)

The homes which went up in flames belonged Peterson Mundu from Chuave, Nita Biron from Oro, Bobby Banang from Finschaffen and Erick Turumba from Finschaffen.

In each instance, family members were at work or absent from the home and they lost all the contents of the homes.

The National visited each family and discovered that every family member was left with only the clothes they wore. 

"I am standing in the only things that I own now," was the cry of a family member of each home.

Peterson Mundu was at his work place at Consort Shipping. His wife had gone to Markham. His sixteen-year-old daughter Doreen was preparing for her graduation and had gone to fetch her one-year-old brother Henry's birthday cake when her house was set on fire.

Nita Biron lived in her home with sister Mary Biron after her husband left her. They work at International Food Corporation. She was doing her laundry when her house was set on fire.

Nita said her son and one other relative are serving time in Buimo prison but the crowd thought her brother was involved in Thursday's robbery, which is why her home was set on fire.

Wen Marris, the elder brother of Bobby Banang, was on leave from Lihir and was there to watch his brother's home go up in flames yesterday.

Eric Turumba from Pindiu had packed up to follow his Buka wife and children home next week. The ex-Telikom employee lost everything including his toolboxes when his home was set on fire.

Pastor Ruddy Kahata sympathized with all those who lost their homes but said there must come a time when the community has to cooperate to bring crime to an end.

"We went everyday to the settlement and asked them to give us the suspects so we can hand them over to the authorities," he said.

"They did not do it so the people got frustrated."

He said this was not the first time and said crimes such as robberies were increasing and people were expressing their frustration.

Police did not attend the conflict until later in the day when community police went in for a brief chat and came out again.

December 3, 2003

The National:


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