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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 6) – Criminal activities in the Finschhafen District of Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Province are likely to force the closure of a community school this year.

The Merikeo Community School in the Kotte Local Level Government Council says it is likely to suspend classes, leaving more than 200 children from the two big villages of Merikeo and Zafireo without classes.

A community leader yesterday told the Post-Courier the school had recently been targeted by criminals for raids. Teachers and school children had been victims of the raids.

"It’s uncontrollable. Teachers and children have been victimised by criminals," he said.

The local leader said the criminals were organised and operated in a "Mafia" gang style. "The (gang) leader orders his followers to raid the school. They enter the school and demand money from teachers. In one instance, they abducted a girl from a class and raped her. It’s evil,’’ he said.

The leader said that the gang members "just walk’’ into the school anytime during the day. Before closing for the Christmas break, "gang members walked in on children and their teachers in their classrooms threatened teachers, then picked a girl they wanted and took her out and raped her.’’

He said on teachers’ paydays, gang members threatened teachers with violence if they did not give them money.

"Everyone is scared as they can’t do anything because they (criminals) are armed," the source said.

He said authorities including the police had been told of the reign of terror at the school, but police said they did not have enough men and resources to deal with the situation.

He said teachers have already fled the school and may not return to begin the 2006 school year.

"We can’t help it and as the local community, we have called on the government to close the school this year," he said.

Kotte LLG officials have been told of the problem and reports have been sent to the Morobe provincial administration and its education division.

"The Government has to address this problem quickly."

He said the gang terrorising the school was led by a man who was recently "set free’’ by the court in Finschhafen when his case was thrown out.

"He is the person who is the ring leader. He is organising boys to carry out these activities," the source said.

Morobe Provincial Administrator Manasupe Zurenuoc who is the chairman of the provincial education board was not available for comment. Police would also not comment on the report.

January 9, 2006

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