PNG CITY GUARDS SLASH STREET VENDORS WITH BUSH KNIVES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 15) - Seven street vendors were slashed with bush knives by city authority security guards yesterday in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

[PIR editor’s note: Mt. Hagen, capital of Western Highlands Province in the central part of Papua New Guinea’s mainland peninsula, has been a focus of recent unrest and violence in the country. The Australian government this week issued a travel warning for its citizens, highlighting Port Moresby, Lae, Mt. Hagen and other Western Highlands areas.]

One of the victims is battling for his life at the Mt Hagen General Hospital after receiving a deep cut across his back. The attack was in retaliation to a strike staged earlier in the day by the vendors following continuous attack on them by authorities.

Mr. Timothy Roika, son of former Provincial Premier Lucas Roika, said that he was with city manager Mr. Richard Culligan when Culligan ordered his men to grab knives from a shop and attack the vendors. The knives were reportedly purchased on credit to be paid for later by Culligan.

Roika claimed he had tried to intervene and said it was not the way to handle the situation.

Early yesterday morning, city authority workers armed with bush knives, sling shots, sticks and stones went on another rampage, destroying tables, betel nut, cigarettes and injured several vendors. Vendors then hit back with a strike of their own which sent guards and the public scurrying for cover. But quick police response quelled what could have been a day of anarchy in the highlands city.

Police told the strikers not to take matters into their own hands but let the law take its course.

However, the authority workmen used the calm period to purchase bush knives and attack the street vendors in the afternoon, resulting in the injuries.

Last week city workers physically manhandled a street vendor who was selling in front of the flowerbeds he works on. He was critically injured. The vendors who are former street gang members have reportedly repented and formed organizations, which play a major part in the city’s beautification program.

Police fired shots into the air and cooled down the rowdy crowd. They were later addressed by police officers and former city lord Mayor Joseph Nikints. Most of the street vendors were members of the city’s Volunteer Crime Stoppers and City Crime Stoppers formed in 2004.

The City Crime Stoppers signed an agreement with Mt Hagen urban local level Government under which they would get paid for working on the beautification program in the city.

According to Mr. Shepherd Stanley Kundal, a group leader of City Crime Stoppers, they had not been paid for the last three years.

City authorities instead attack them for selling items on the streets, resulting in loss of money and market goods.

Kundal said, "We’re the ones that work on the beautification program. Not the city authority. Their street patrols are just there to rob people for allegedly littering in the places we keep clean."

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