Tongan missionaries ‘in hiding’ in PNG as angry looters target Asian shops

Gordon looting
A photo of looters at Gordon, a suburb of Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea. They were reported to be angered by the "disrespect" of some stores that opened on a day of mourning for the death of founding father Sir Michael Somare. Image: Nigel Kutan/FB/Kaniva Tonga

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva Tonga

A group of Tongan missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Papua New Guinea has gone into hiding in a church in Lae as unrest and violence erupted in the country yesterday.

The chaos came after days of mourning following the death on Friday of the nation’s longest serving Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.

Somare, 84, known as the “father of the nation,” died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a key leader in wresting the Pacific nation’s independence from Australia.

Police faced a mob at what appears to be a road in front of the LDS church in Lae, a Facebook live video seen by Kaniva News showed.

Shots were overheard as hundreds of people fled the scene before they stopped and attempted to reorganise themselves.

It was alleged the shots came from police who were trying to disperse the mob.

The crowd were attempting to rob a nearby Chinese shop, it has been claimed.

Looting in Gordon
The looting and chaos in Gordon as well as in Eastern Boroko in Port Moresby was also caught on camera and shared on Facebook.

Tongan president ‘Isileli Fatani of the LDS Mission in Lae, the second largest city in PNG, who was in a building few metres away from the scene, said the situation “was terrifying”.

Fakalotolahi pe ki he kau faifekau Tonga ‘i Lae, PNG lolotonga hono laiki ‘e he kakai ‘o e fonua’ e ngaahi pisinisi…

Posted by Kaniva Tonga on Monday, March 1, 2021


Sir Michael Somare, 84, died on Friday. He was Papua New Guinea’s prime minister for a total of 17 years.

Fatani said he had just arrived at their accommodation after driving down the road seeing people looting shops and businesses and fighting in other parts of the country.

He was overheard telling one of the missionaries to lock the gate.

He said they were hiding inside the church property while he was livestreaming the incidents.

He was also overheard asking one of the PNG missionaries at the property whether it was safe for them to leave the church and move to town.

Motive behind the chaos
Fatani claimed the motive behind the attacks was a reaction by the locals after the death of Somare.

“He was a prime minister they loved most,” Fatani said.

His video had racked up 1300 comments and 1400 shares within 10 hours after it was published to Facebook yesterday.

In a post on Facebook a PNG commentator said the operations of the Asian businesses during a public holiday set in memory of Somare disappointed the locals.

“If all the PNG citizens can [whole]heartedly respect the great loss of our Founding Father Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare and the Prime Minister of the Day through NEC Declare Public Holiday today, which government law or order will these so called Asians be following or governed by?” the post read.

“I would suggest let there be a looting. Police must not deter any looting because these Asians must respect PNG law, respect our country’s Father’s mourning.

“Permitting looting will put a complete stop for any shop to operate.

“Let’s all respect our legendary father for the last time because he will never be seen again till we meet again in paradise.”

Agence France-Press reports that PNG security services called for calm as the incidents of rioting and looting followed the death of Sir Michael Somare.

Police Minister William Onglo warned officers would “step in to fully restore order” after disturbances in Port Moresby and the second city of Lae.

Several stores were reportedly ransacked during a national day of mourning for Sir Michael.

Kaniva Tonga reports are republished by Asia Pacific Report in partnership.

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