PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Dec. 22) – Papua New Guinea police are allegedly preventing the International Red Cross from providing humanitarian aid to displaced squatters in the town of Madang, who were rousted from an illegal settlement last week.

Many children are reported to have fallen ill due to exposure to rain and cold weather.

The police also appear to be defying a court injunction restraining them from proceeding with the eviction drive.

Some settlers who had taken shelter in relatives’ houses were reportedly harassed.

Police were visiting town residents and warning them not to give food and shelter to the affected people.

Madang is a popular tourist destination in on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, attracting many divers.

The National Broadcasting Commission’s Karai Service reported yesterday that a police mobile squad unit had threatened and warned Red Cross officers not to assist the settlers with food and other necessities.

The radio station also reported that some food provided by the town community to help the affected people had been destroyed by police.

Meanwhile, many children forced out of their homes by police in the eviction exercise in Madang have fallen ill to diseases such as malaria, flu, pneumonia and dysentery. The National was unable to independently verify this with the Modilon Hospital staff, but parents say many children contracted these illnesses as a result of exposure to rain and cold after their houses are burnt down and destroyed by police.

One father, Tobias Manzari, told The National that they are scared of taking their children to the hospital for treatment because they feared that police would assault them there.

"We have babies and young children who are very sick with pneumonia, malaria, flu and dysentery because of staying on the roadside without proper shelter," Mr Manzari said.

"Because we have been evicted, we are scared to bring our children to the hospital for treatment. The policemen might harass us for not going to our respective provinces."

Most of those affected are mainly from the East Sepik province whose only mode of transportation home is by boat from Madang to Wewak.

Lutheran Shipping serves that particular route, and is busy during this festive period, and cannot alter their schedule to accommodate displaced settlers.

Mr Manzari said the situation is getting worse and parents are concerned about their young children.

He asked the Madang provincial government to convince shipping companies to help transport the evicted people home.

Meanwhile, human rights activist Steven Anoambo has welcomed Sir Peter Bater’s promised assistance of K400,000 (US$124,000) to help evicted families find shelter.

However, he said the immediate need is to create a temporary care center for the displaced people while the government finds the necessary arrangements to transport the people home.

"We welcome the K400,000 allocated by the National Government but at the same time call on the Provincial Disaster and Emergency office to work closely with the churches to effectively coordinate the eviction exercise," Mr Anoambo said.

December 22, 2003

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