PNG MINISTERS STONED BY ANGRY HIGHLANDS CROWD

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Tari landowners left out of gas project mapping

By Andrew Alphonse PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 13, 2009) – A TEAM of senior Government ministers and Members of Parliament came under attack in Tari, Papua New Guinea yesterday when angry locals pelted them with stones and booed them.

The entourage was in Tari for the licence-based benefits sharing agreement (LBBSA) forums and had planned to speak to the people at the Andaija Oval when they were pelted with stones.

Police had to fire several shots into the air to prevent further trouble.

No casualties were reported.

The entourage included Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru, Finance and Treasury Minister Patrick Pruaitch, Petroleum and Energy Minister William Duma, State Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare, Public Service Minister Peter O’Neill, Sports Minister Philemon Embel, Education Minister James Marape, Kagua-Erave MP James Lagea, Imbonggu MP Francis Awesa, Mendi MP Pr Isaac Joseph, Komo-Margarima MP Francis Potape and Koroba-Lake Kopiago MP John Kekeno.They were en route to Nogoli for the opening of the Hides PDL 1 LBBSA but decided to make a stop-over in Tari to address the crowd.

The crowd of mostly youths and village chiefs from Tari town and Hayapuga areas did not appreciate the presence of the leaders.

They protested over why the electorate of Tari-Pori and its four local level government (LLG) council areas – Tari urban, Tebi, Tagali and Hayapuga – were not included in the mapping of the petroleum development licence (PDL) areas in the PNG LNG project.They felt they were going to miss out on the benefits.

As the ministers led by the local Hela MPs took to the stage to address them, the crowd moved towards the arena and booed them.

The crowd gestured angrily and shouted at the MPs and ministers.

Attempts to calm them down were greeted with more booing, yells and whistles.

Even Mr Agiru, who commands great respect in the whole of the Hela region, could not do much to control the agitated crowd.

The shocked MPs and ministers ducked for cover and were escorted to safety at the nearby Tari district court house.

Only Mr Agiru, Mr Marape, Mr Potape and Pr Joseph stood their ground in the grandstand even as the stones came flying at them.

Sensing further trouble from the defiant crowd that simply would not listen to them, Mr Agiru told them he would come in person today (Friday) and talk to them to get their views on what they were not happy about.

He then led the ministers and MPs 3km out of Tari town to Habare Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) mission where they were picked by a helicopter and flown to Hides.

One of the leaders of the protesters and Kikita village chief, Timothy Hayara, said the people in Tari were angry because not all the Hela area was included in the PDL area, boundary and mapping.

Mr Hayara said while Komo and Lake Koroba were included in the LNG map as licenced areas, they were surprised that Tari was not included.

Youth leader Kobaiya Timu said if Tari was not included in the PDL map, there was no need for the State and the developer to come there and talk about the LBBSA forum in Tari.

He said they should do everything in Hides, Nogoli, Komo and Angore areas near the project sites.

Tari-based police highway patrol unit 20 policemen, who tried hard to keep the angry crowd under control, lost their vehicle side glass and headlights when the youths stoned the vehicle.

Police personnel flown in from outside the province to provide security at the LBBSA fired several shots into the air to disperse the angry crowd.

However, someone in the crowd also had a gun and fired back but fortunately, no-one was injured.

 

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