Angry Landowners Close Bougainville Airport, Disrupt Flights

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Internal dispute among clans over payment of compensation

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Sept. 10, 2014) – Angry landowners shut down Buka airport yesterday, disrupting scheduled flights in and out of Bougainville and holding the travelling public to ransom.

Landowners from nearby Ieta village, under the leadership of Rungunahana Incorporated Land Group chairman Herman Tugen, stormed the airport at around 9am, forcing the cancellation of flights in and out of Bougainville. The landowners overturned luggage trolleys, parked their vehicles on the runway and sent a message to the authorities of the airport’s closure.

Mr Tugen ‘s followers are demanding the National Lands Department in Port Moresby send their ILG Certificate and have their agreed K5 million [US$1.95 million] compensation deposited into their account. The Landowner group is wracked by an internal dispute and divided along clan lines.

Vice-chairman of the group Raymond Hakena said he was extremely disappointed with the airport’s closure. He was to have arrived in Buka yesterday in preparation for the clan reconciliation. "As a member of the executive I’m not happy," he told the Post-Courier.

"This is an in-house matter and closure of the airport is illegal under the Public Utilities Act recently passed by the National Government. And I don’t know why the police are not standing firm within the rule of law to let justice prevail for such behaviours," he said.

However, he said that he wanted to reconcile with all the clans and executive members but the closure of the airport was sabotaging the reconciliation which was one of the requirements by the Lands Department in order for the K5 million cheque to be released to the landowners.

The local police hierarchy, Bougainville Chief Secretary Chris Siriosi and village met to negotiate lifting the travel ban. Mr Siriosi said he would not be involved in any negotiations with the clan members of the ILG but said it was their land and they had to solve these issues once and for all.

He said landowners should negotiate with their constituency member Cosmas Sohia who has the mandate to deal with those issues. ‘’I have no power and authority to be involved so I want all the clans of Ieta village involved to have round table talks and prepare for a reconciliation," he said.

He said when there clans are reconciled the payment for land compensation shall be made. Mr Tugen will continue negotiating with his clan members and the other chiefs on the status of the airport runway.

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