Tribal Fighting In PNG's Hela Province Shuts Tari Airport

Policeman's son among thee killed by gunfire in the town center

By Lynette Kil

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Dec. 14, 2016) – A policeman's son was among three people killed as warring factions of the landowner clan of Tari, the Hela Province capital, lay siege to the town last Sunday.

The 17-year-old student had just completed his Grade 10 national examination.

He was killed when one faction of the Kikita clan fired indiscriminately into Homo police barracks, acting Hela police commander Inspector Daniel Yangen said yesterday.

All flights into Tari airstrip have been cancelled, and the bank closed while businesses and a public service were opening but cautiously, Mr Yangen said.

Thirty people have been killed and untold number of houses and gardens destroyed since the varying factions of Kikita clan clashed in 2014.

Peace was brokered in 2015 but fresh fighting erupted last Saturday after a member of a faction was shot dead.

The other side retaliated the next day, arriving in two white five-door vehicles and burned down houses.

The armed men sitting on the vehicles fired randomly at the public and tried to seize a supermarket after claiming the owner was assisting their enemy, Mr Yangen said.

Police were outnumbered and were threatened at gunpoint while locals ducked for cover to avoid bullets.

One tribesman was shot in police presence who quickly rushed him to Tari hospital but his condition was not known.

The Grade 10 student, the son of a police officer from Pangia, Southern Highlands Province, was spending holidays with his parents when he was killed after a shot penetrated one of his lungs, Mr Yangen said.

He said the police barracks was under attack for some time on Sunday. The body of the policeman’s son is at Tari hospital morgue.

Mr Yangen and his few officers were held at gunpoint several times, describing the gunmen as rebels. The tribesmen withdrew after police reinforcement arrived, he said.

One of the vehicles used during the Sunday fight was confiscated after police visited the tribe yesterday.

MrYangen said that a restraining order was issued to the factions last week, signed by their leaders not to fight.

Business houses have drawn up a petition calling on the provincial government to act as soon as possible to completely eliminate tribal fights.

Hela Governor Francis Potape had released a statement on Monday calling on the warring factions to stop fighting.

[PIR editor's note: On Dec. 14, 2016 PNG Post-Courier reported that 'Cabinet will discuss the Hela problem on Thursday, Finance Minister James Marape said yesterday. ... Mr Marape, who is the local Tari-Pori MP, said in a statement: "By Thursday we will be able to tell you our position on what to do with Hela. Police will be in place in Hela. ... And I asked our people to lay down arms and bring those involved into police custody and allow them to be charged so that we can solve this tribal fight. ... I am appealing to my people please lay down their arms. It’s Christmas and I will be visiting them next week to discuss all this," he said. ... Acting Hela provincial police commander Inspector Daniel Yangen said a state of emergency must be declared in Hela Province.']

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