By MALUM NALU in Port Moresby
The Papua New Guinea government has allocated K11 million (NZ$4.9 million) for a special call-out operation involving police officers and soldiers to deal with escalating tribal fights in Hela province.
The National Executive Council made the decision yesterday following reports of an increase in violence and concern over public safety in the province, home of the PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.
Tari-Pori MP James Marape said after the NEC meeting that he would preside over the K11 million allocated by the government in Tari on Friday.
He warned the “gun-toting cowboys of Hela” that their days were numbered and to surrender their guns to police.
“We will come after you and I will be right behind the police and army in this exercise.”
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in a statement that “internal disputes” were impacting on law and order in the province.
“These problems have the potential to impact on the (2017 general) election and the operation of important projects in the area,” he said.
O’Neill said cabinet had approved the call-out for police and soldiers in Hela.
“Police will have full powers to ensure law and order (is maintained) and to deal with people who cause trouble,” he said.
“This includes the immediate arrest of people seeking to initiate violent acts or making threats against government officials or projects in the province.
“The government will consult with ExxonMobil and Oil Search Limited to provide logistical support to supplement the security operation.”
The National Security Advisory Council will monitor, risk assess and provide further recommendations to him and the National Security Council.
Marape warned people with guns to surrender them “if you want to evade the fury of government because this call-out will run from now until Dec 31, 2017”.
He said those “who feel their guns can make them continue to break laws and become murderers” would be arrested.
“My district will offer the personnel all the support in this call-out,” Marape said.
“I will request a gun clean-up to take place first in my villages and in my electorate.
“From Dec 17 [tomorrow] to February 28, 2017, we will have a guns surrender moratorium and after that, we will go after those who have guns.”
Marape urged Komo-Margarima MP Francis Potape and Koroba-Lake Kopiago MP Philip Undialu to stop competing over who heads the province because it was fuelling the violence.
Malum Nalu is a senior journalist with The National.