By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby
Seventeen people have been killed, hundreds of families made homeless, dozens of houses razed and government services ground to a halt in Enga Province’s Porgera district in Papua New Guinea as warring clans took up arms against each other.
Calls for government help went unanswered at the weekend.
Police in Porgera said the number of deaths had shot up to 17 as fighting continued.
The sounds of gunfire could be heard as all government assets, including the Porgera mine staff, remained locked in their homes and behind gates.
An employee of the mine said the sounds of gunfire could be heard on Sunday evening with war cries echoing through the town centre of Paiam.
The fresh violence — which got worse following the withdrawal of security personnel to the provincial capital Wabag to prepare for election duties — ended a fragile, two-month peace truce between the warring Nomali and Aiyala clans of Paiam in Porgera.
The sitting MP of Lagaip-Porgera, Tomait Kapili, said the ongoing feud between two clans also meant the planned reopening of the world class Porgera mine was “slim” and “may not happen within the timeframe wanted by the government”.
Disappointed with ‘inaction’
Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas was disappointed with the inaction by the PNG Defence Force and police hierarchy.
“I have been asking for security forces for the last three weeks,” a frustrated Sir Peter said.
He confirmed with the Post-Courier that Prime Minister James Marape had been informed of the situation in Porgera.
Police Commissioner David Manning said that the violence erupted after a man from the Nomali clan was chopped on his hand by a man from Aiyala.
Last Tuesday, a security guard was attacked and slashed. He died of his injuries in front of the shop he was protecting.
The killing of the guard saw a confrontation flare up, which led to police firing several shots to deter the two clans.
In retaliation, the Nomali clan chopped the hand of a man from Aiyala on Friday morning.
Outnumbered by tribal fighters
“A fight broke out, with Mobile Squad 11 who were on mine operation in Porgera taking command of the township but were outnumbered by tribal fighters who were in possession of high powered firearms,” Manning said.
“The two clans have destroyed properties.”
On Saturday, battle lines were drawn as the two warring clans faced off in the streets of the Paiam.
Continuous gunshots could be heard as both clans continue a feud that escalated to the burning of several homes belonging to settlers around the mining town.
The confrontation continued with the withdrawal of police units back to Wabag to await further orders to be deployed into other provinces of the Highlands region.
The withdrawal led to a fierce confrontation between the two clans that saw more than 50 people injured, homes destroyed and the Paiam town centre coming to a standstill.
Local police could only stand by and watch the removal of property from homes as the two clans ruled the streets of the township.
Awaiting deployment orders
Police Mobile Squad 5 was supposed to be in Enga. However, it is understood the unit had yet to receive its deployment orders.
According to a source, new PNG Defence Force soldiers had been tasked to go into Enga, but this had been delayed given that the national government did not settle outstanding debts for service providers and troops.
Porgera remains without any security support, with reports that local police — who are grossly outnumbered and without support — are exhausted and could not do much.
Sources in Paiam also indicated that the Paiam district hospital was still operating but staff are scared because of the lack of security. They were only taking in emergency cases.
A medical officer said casualties from the tribal conflict were not taken to the hospital due to security fears.
He said the hospital had not been targeted by the clans but buildings around the hospital grounds had been razed to the ground.
In developments late Sunday afternoon, more than 15 ten-seater vehicles with PNGDF personnel had arrived for deployment to Porgera.
Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.