ExxonMobile Scientist Among Group Temporarily Taken Hostage In PNG's Hela Province

Police comply with Komo tribesmen demand to release of two 'gunmen'

By Jeffrey Elapa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, June 5, 2017) – Komo tribesmen held three people, including a female scientist, hostage last Friday as they negotiated for the release of two fellow gunmen whom police had arrested in Hela Province.

One of the hostages was wounded during the day-long tense negotiations, which resulted in the release of the hostages and the two Komo gunmen later in the afternoon.

Hela provincial police commander Superintendent Michael Wally said yesterday that police in routine patrol in Komo had arrested the two warlords carrying unlicensed guns and locked them up at Tari police station last week.

He said angry relatives of the two men from the Tope tribe, who inhabit the hills above the Komo airport, entered the Komo airport premises last Friday morning by cutting the parameter, and took three workers hostage.

They were a ExxonMobil female environmental scientist, a local helper and a driver of a contractor, HGDC, who were doing environmental investigation and research work in the area.

Supt Wally said the tribesmen held them as hostages, called police and demanded the release of the two gunmen for the safe return of the workers.

He said police decided to release the gunmen in fear of the woman (the environmental scientist) being hurt.

He said what the villagers did was a criminal act and they would be arrested and charged, adding police were pleased the woman was released unharmed, but the helper was assaulted while being held.

PNG LNG project developer ExxonMobil PNG Limited said in a statement it was taking very seriously the abduction of one of its staff in the vicinity of Komo airfield on Friday.

“We are relieved to say that the incident was resolved quickly, and our staff is safe. We take this opportunity to commend the police for making their highest priority the safety of all persons concerned,” a company spokesman said.

The company source also made it clear that the issue was not related to PNG LNG activities.

“We continue to encourage constructive dialogue as the means to resolving tensions. ExxonMobil PNG is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with landowners, the government and the wider community,” the spokesman said.

Hela province recently went through a month-long firearms amnesty, during which time people with unlicensed weapons were encouraged to hand them to police for destruction. It was hailed a success in many districts including Tari and Komo.

PNG Post-Courier
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