PNG CATHOLICS MOBILIZE AGAINST LAND COMPENSATION

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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan.11) – More than 3,000 Catholics in the North Waghi district Western Highlands province staged a protest march on Wednesday in Banz to prevent landowners from demanding compensation from the Catholic mission for using their land.

The Catholics showed their frustration after the landowners from Senglapkanem tribe entered the station and destroyed coffee gardens valued at K64,000 and damaged the Maria Kwin centre in Banz.

The Drunglem clan living near the Maria Kwin centre had demanded that the Catholic mission compensate them for using their land, which they used to plant 9ha of coffee trees.

The Drunglem clan, after getting nowhere with their compensation claim, took the matter into own hands since last October by chopping down coffee trees and causing disturbance to the mission station.

Chairman of Banz parish council Peter Sakipo said they had organised the protest mainly to stop the culprits from illegally entering the mission premises and causing disturbance to missionaries and destroying church properties.

Mr Sakipo said during the protest, the public had contributed more than K3,000 to support the Catholic mission to take the matter to court.

He said this was the second time the landowners invaded the mission station, adding the first one was in 2002.

He said four suspects allegedly involved in the cutting down of the coffee trees were apprehended and were handed to the Banz police while another five were still at large.

Mr Sakipo said that Catholic church contributed a lot in Banz area in terms of education, health and religion but minority groups did not appreciate the services provided by the church on their land.

He said that the church was not a profit-making organisation but a service provider and people must understand that, especially the landowners.

He appealed to the people to stop demanding compensation from the church and look after the mission station in order for the church to continue providing services.

Meanwhile, Internal Security Minister Sani Rambi told thousands of Lutherans during their 26th synod at Ogulben outside Mt Hagen city that police would get tough on landowners who were causing disturbance.

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