PNG Police ‘Rampage’ Through Lihir Community

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PNG Police ‘Rampage’ Through Lihir Community Officers allegedly damaged property, assaulted residents

By Walter Pipite

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 19, 2013) – Thousands of people are now displaced and thousands of kina worth of property destroyed after Papua New Guinea police rampaged through a community in Lihir a few weeks ago.

The small village community of Zuen is now literally deserted after members of the Kokopo based Mobile Squad 15 conducted a so-called ‘eviction’ exercise by forcefully removing villagers from their houses, pulling houses down, cutting trees and crops and causing damage amounting to thousands of kina.

Based on statements given by Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association (LMALA) Chairman Mr. Peter Suar, everyone is aware of the customary land disputes that are now becoming frequent between clans and various groups on Lihir, but he assured all stakeholders that LMALA’s official position has always been that they will not be involved and take sides with any single clan or group because of LMALA’s very mandate, which is to look after the interests of their members, who belong to the six (6) major clans on Lihir.

Mr. Suar stated that the recent eviction exercise on the piece of land at Zuen village known as ‘Niatam’ by heavily armed Mobile Squad members from Kokopo numbering in excess of 30, over a customary land dispute between Nielik and Tinetalgo Clans (which is a civil matter) has raised very serious concerns for LMALA because of the total disregard by police for the villages dignity, welfare, especially women and children who have been displaced and who had to flee into the bushes and live there for these past few days. He further aired his concerns that Newcrest Mining Limited and NRLLG have done nothing to intervene and help the affected families and for this LMALA strongly condemns the inaction of these two entities.

"The eviction exercise has affected many innocent families in the affected village and also families from the neighboring villages. Many innocent people are rumored to have been assaulted and threatened unnecessarily by the police officers in full combat gear, causing fear and intimidation amongst the people of Lihir," he said.

He further stated that in light of the cries for help and the plight of the affected people, LMALA has engaged their lawyers to seek urgent enforcement of the human rights of the effected people by announcing that an Interim Restraining Order has been granted by the National Court on Monday 11, March 2013 stopping all eviction exercises by the police in Zuen village as well as the neighboring villages.

"The matter has currently been returned to the National Court at which time our lawyers will make appropriate representations," he said.

A spokesman for the principle land owner who was still in hiding communicated to the Post-Courier and called on the New Ireland government to intervene.

"It has been nearly a month now and our members of parliament have not intervened in this case. What could have been a minor case that could have been solved civilly and within our community has now blown out of proportion. What the affected people of Zuen want is normalcy, peace and justice for what has been done to their community," he said.

Post-Courier contacted Newcrest concerning the matter and got the reply from a spokesperson that "it is inappropriate to comment as it is a civil matter unrelated to the mine."

Police representatives on the other hand could not comment when contacted by Post-Courier, as they couldn’t be reached.

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