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Community petitioning government, company for assistance

By Jeffrey Elapa PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 30, 2012) – Relatives of the 28 people buried alive in the landslide in Komo, Southern Highlands, have blamed the developer and its contractors for causing the disaster.

The landowners have called on the State and the developer to stop all operations – even the clearing of the road - until the relatives give the clearance.

More than 20 landowners who met at the Shady Rest Hotel in Port Moresby told reporters that they would not allow the road to be cleared as the place was now a mass burial ground.

The team was led by spokesman Steven Tukuyawini, chief Kupiowi Aluya and councillor Moris Aia.

They petitioned the government and the developer to charter planes so that the relatives of the missing 28 people be flown home to attend the funerals.

Many of them were flown from their homes to sign the Umbrella Benefits Sharing Agreement (UBSA) in Kokopo and were still stranded in the city. They needed to go home and provide leadership while they mourned the death of their relatives.

They said they needed to go home to sit with their relatives and resolve some of their issues relating to the project and activities in the area.

[PIR editor’s note: Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru has called the landslide that hit Tumbi "the worst natural disaster" in the area’s history. According to the governor, "the Gigira mountain range is the custodian of some of the most important historical sites, legends and oracles of the Hela nation." The governor avoided criticizing the Esso Highlands Limited Company and extended thanks to Peter O'Neill and Francis Potabe for visiting the area to show support. Concerns have also been raised over the potential for other landslides to occur in the area. Officials with local non-governmental organizations also say that displaced residents need to be resettled in safe areas, as further problems may arise as terrain continues to be unstable and rainfall is heavy.]

The landslide occurred because of human activities such as the quarry and the blasting of rocks on the top of the mountain, locals said.

They also said their environment and water sources had been contaminated by chemicals and waste from mining activities.

Three children had already died after drinking the contaminated water. Many people had developed skin diseases and rashes after using the polluted water.

"These are very serious issues and warrant an investigation into the cause of the landslide and for an independent environmental study to be conducted," they said.

The leaders said the developer and the State had failed to resettle the people properly although funds were given for their relocation.

A spokesperson for the developer last week said the landslide was a "natural disaster."

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