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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 2) – The shooting incident at the Porgera Primary School on Monday in which three students were killed by Papua New Guinea police was triggered by a police robbery, the school’s board says.

The school’s board said the policemen had stopped a group of teachers at Tipinini on Friday and relieved them of PGK900 (US$307) contributed by students for an end-of-the-year party. On hearing that the headmaster was demanding the return of the money, some policemen allegedly went to the school on Monday and dragged him out of his office.

"At the same time, some other policemen went to a Grade 8 classroom and manhandled the deputy headmaster," the board said in a letter faxed to Police Commissioner Sam Inguba yesterday.

It said the students ran in panic and the police opened fire.

The account differs from initial information apparently given to Police Deputy Commissioner Gari Baki by Porgera police on Monday.

Mr Baki had told The National that the headmaster, whose whereabouts is not known, and the deputy had gotten drunk and were harassing the public on Friday. The police claimed that after two unsuccessful attempts, they went to the school on Monday to arrest the headmaster but he had organised a roadblock manned by students. They claimed the students threw rocks at them and after about 30 minutes, they opened fire, killing three students and injuring several others.

Porgera Hospital medical officer Dr Moisas Granada said yesterday that three of the injured were in critical condition. The others were still under intensive care, he said.

According to the school board and Akali Tange Association, a Porgera-based human rights group, at least 28 were injured in the incident and not 20 as earlier reported. Both the board and the association have demanded a full inquiry into the incident and for the policemen involved to be charged accordingly.

The board said the students, aged between seven and 16, did throw stones but that was not enough reason for the police to open fire. It described the police action as "barbaric and cowardly."

The board is understood to have also faxed the letter to the Prime Minister, the Police Minister and the Enga Governor.

The association said provincial police commander Teddy Tei had suspended the police officers involved in the incident but this could not be confirmed.

Earlier, Highlands Division police chief Asst Comm Jeffrey Vaki admitted that the police had used excessive force when pelted with stones.

"They could have used teargas to disperse them and should only use fire power when the crowd is exchanging fire power with them," he said when contacted by The National. "I’m also not happy with the headmaster for dragging his students into this nasty situation that he had allegedly started. He had resisted the police when they went to arrest him and his deputy for harassing the public while under the influence of liquor.

"Also, the public should not have damaged the Porgera Development Authority building. This only causes a further setback for development in their area," he said.

He confirmed that the building was not destroyed by fire as stated by the authority’s chairman but only ransacked.

Meanwhile, Porgera Council president Nosa Lumpita said a Sri Lankan general manager of the Porgera Development Authority, who was reported missing, was safe.He said Mr Alex Doinagu escaped with some minor injuries.

The commander of the Porgera police station, Senior Sgt Richard Koki, declined to comment. He told The National that he was under strict orders not to talk to about the incident. Police reinforcements have been sent to the area.

November 3, 2005

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