Protest Held Over ‘Failed’ Western Highlands Elections In PNG

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Tribes, settlers block roadways, shut down local airport

By James Apa Gumuno

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, August 21, 2013) – Important government services and business houses in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands closed after the city’s neighbouring tribes and settlers protested national Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen’s decision to fail council elections in parts of the province.

The Andakelkang tribes living around Kagamuga Airport, with support from Jiga, Moge and settlers closed the airport, blocked three sections of the road at Waghi Bridge, bordering Jiwaka, Kagamuga road junction and also at Kim Pawa as early as 5am with big trucks, 20-foot containers and wreckage of vehicles.

Different aviation companies based and operating out of Kagamuga Airport like MAF, Hevi-lift, and Heli Solution grounded their aircrafts for the whole day.

Air Niugini announced that it had stopped all flights into Mt. Hagen yesterday.

Even the multi million kina airport extension work at the airport was halted.

All the terminals at the airport were empty and only the security guards were seen guarding the properties.

Bus services from Kagamuga into the city were also stopped and public servants and employees of private sectors walked more than 2 kilometers to get into the city from Kagamuga.

[PIR editor’s note: Elsewhere, Trawen remains committed to the declaration, warning all candidates, supporters, MPs and communities to exercise common sense and refrain from civil disobedience, violence or retribution in response to his decision. "I appeal to the people and leaders of the affected provinces not to jeopardise their democratic rights to have representation in the provincial assemblies," he said. Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc yesterday urged Trawen to review and rescind his decision, as there appeared to be no grounds for the polls to be failed.]

People travelling into Mt. Hagen from Jiwaka, Chimbu and other provinces were dropped off at Waghi Bridge near Panga coffee factory and had to walk 3 kilometers into the city.

Route 100 buses operating into Jiwaka, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, Lae and Madang stopped operation.

Supermarkets in the city like Best Buy, Renbo, City Pharmacy, Westpac bank and the post office closed in the morning but reopened at noon. Super Value Stores and a few others remained closed. Schools throughout the city sent their students home.

Western Highlands police were outnumbered and mobile squad 8 from Kerowagi, Chimbu were called in yesterday to assist local police.

During a meeting with provincial police commander Superintendant Martin Lakari, senior police officers and protestors at Kim Pawa, spokesman from the Andakelkang tribe, Luke Luckee Mathew, said their actions were unfortunate, but they did it to show their frustrations.

Mathew said people staged the protest to show their frustration over the decision by Trawen to declare Hagen urban, Hagen rural, Mul, Kotna, and Muglamp LLGs as having failed elections when all council wards had been declared and only a few boxes were left for the presidents’ seats.

"If Trawen declared fail election straight after the polling, we will accept his decision. Why is he declaring failed elections after counting is nearly over?" he asked.

He said the decision was not beneficial to the majority.

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