Hela-Based NGO Worker Questions Effectiveness Of PNG Security Deployment

Effort to stop tribal fighting, collect firearms are short-term fix; core issues not being addressed

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Jan. 18, 2017) – An Hela-based NGO worker in Papua New Guinea has warned that the security forces deployed in the province offer only a temporary solution to tribal fighting.

Three hundred police and military personnel were sent to Hela three weeks ago after months of tribal fighting and a build-up of high-powered firearms.

Police are on a province-wide drive to collect illegal firearms, with an amnesty in place for tribes to surrender their arms by the end of February.

James Komengi, who works with NGOs on peace programmes and drought relief, said fighting had abated since the deployment, but the future is uncertain.

"We are giving a holiday to the warlords. And it looks like it's only a callout for the arms, and they don't have any programmes that will be left behind to help us transform the communities. And that's something I think the politicians will seriously have to get into to transform the province. Otherwise it's more like a temporary break for the warlords."

Mr Komengi said that merely taking guns out of the equation would not help, because tribal fighting in Hela is the effect of structural failures of the state such as a lack of public services and development.

He explained that the mindset of relying on weapons is entrenched among Hela tribes, and that if the extra security personnel leave after a year, tribes may feel exposed again and seek to amass more guns.

The Highlands' guns problem is often linked to illicit trade in firearms along the border with Indonesia, both via Indonesian military and West Papuan tribes.

James Komengi has been involved with the Ambassadors for Peace programme which was instrumental in the signing of a peace agreement between 32 warring communities in Hela region in 2008.

He said that since then none of the communities have resorted to violence.

Mr Komengi said the programmes which civil society facilitates have brought warring tribes together at workshops to develop the skills to dialogue and understand each other as well as the causes of conflict.

These workshops and dialogues are mediated by trained local facilitators like him.

He said that peace agreements between previously warring communities or tribes were based on their own agreements, publicly declared, and monitored by facilitators.

These were the types of programmes he said were needed to cope with Hela's current wave of conflicts.

However, Hela provincial government officials said the current security forces deployment had sparked constructive peace talks between warring tribes, and they were hopeful of a lasting settlement.

Radio New Zealand International
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