PNG GRANT DISBURSEMENTS TRIGGER ARMED HOLD-UPS

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Natural gas project cash vulnerable to thieves

By Johnny Poiya PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 7, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), armed hold-ups have increased in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project areas after landowners received their business development grants, police have said.

The Ambua Gap in Hela is the common hold-up site, Tari police said.

[PIR editor’s note: Hela is located in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.]

Criminals set up spies at the Tari bus stop with mobile phones to contact them and give them the identities of vehicles and individuals with huge amounts of cash heading towards Mendi and Mt Hagen, police revealed.

The criminals themselves, armed with firearms, set up ambush at the steep Ambua Gap further up from the world-renowned Ambua Lodge.

"A large number of money was robbed last weekend when one Public motor vehicle (PMV) bus was held up, a police officer said; requesting anonymity. Obviously the criminals knew of the vehicle and the people travelling in it. A day later, a PMV truck was held up and coincidently, one passenger was not touched or robbed by the criminals."

That lone passenger, a lone young man from Tikipia, was questioned by police and victims who were travelling with him on the same truck.

The young man revealed that the criminals were from his area.

Police confiscated 4,500 kina [US$1,700] he had in his possession and told him to go and bring his tribesmen to face the law before they returned his money.

The man went into Tikipia and was able to capture one of the suspects but due to the long travelling distance, the criminal managed to escape.

A clash ensured between the criminal’s relatives and the young man’s tribesmen.

"Criminals are aware that land-owners are now in possession of large amounts of money, the officer said. It’s important that nobody travels around with huge amounts of cash. It’s better to bank money and travel lightly and they can withdraw at their destinations." The policeman said any criminal caught on the road would be shot to death as the road was the only access by land to the LNG sites.

"We can’t have small time petty criminals trying to derail the multi-billion LNG project. Anybody caught in the act would definitely be shot. All policemen know what to do with such people," he said.

On Wednesday, a PMV bus owned by a Western Highlander was shot at when the driver refused to stop when faced by armed wielding men at the gap.

No one was hurt but the vehicle had parts of its undercarriage damaged by the bullet from a high powered rifle.

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