PNG’s energy minister, supporters flee for their lives in elections attack

A mob set fire to these vehicles during PNG Energy Minister Saki Soloma's visit
A mob set fire to these vehicles during Energy Minister Saki Soloma's visit to Okapa station, Eastern Highlands, in a Papua New Guinean election campaign rally. Image: The National

By Shirley Mauludu in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s Energy Minister Saki Soloma and his supporters had to run for their lives when they were attacked by rival candidate supporters in Okapa station on Friday with the national elections due in July.

His supporters were also injured when they protected Soloma from being harmed as they ran helter-skelter.

The mob then set fire to Soloma’s five vehicles that were used for a rally and visit to a market area.

Recalling his life-threatening ordeal, Soloma, who is also the Okapa MP, said: “We were on our way to the market area at about noon when we spotted a huge crowd of supporters at a rally.

“They were unfriendly and did not seem to want us there. A bottle was then thrown at my convoy of vehicles and all hell broke loose.

“We jumped out of our vehicles and ran for our lives.

“When the assailants could not find us, they torched all our vehicles.

‘Bad precedent for elections’
“The attack and burning of my convoy of vehicles is a bad precedent for general elections.

“I’d like to think that it was pre-planned.

“Objects like catapults were also used in the attack.

“My supporters fled in all directions.

“Some received knife wounds but no lives were lost.

“Everyone should be allowed to campaign peacefully and freely.

“Papua New Guineans should also be allowed to make their choice and cast their ballots safely.”

Warning against taking law into own hands
Soloma said he advised and cautioned his supporters to refrain from taking the law into their own hands.

PNG Energy Minister Saki Soloma
Energy Minister Saki Soloma … ran for his life when opponents attacked his convoy of five vehicles and set them on fire during an election campaign rally. Image: The National

“I have spoken to the provincial police commander. I understand police are investigating,” he said.

“I am very sorry that this had happened.

“It is all a reckless, irresponsible behaviour and jealousy.

“I appeal to other candidates to demonstrate leadership and ensure peace is restored for Papua New Guineans to exercise their right to choose and cast their ballots safely.”

Eastern Highlands commander Superintendent Michael Welly said those responsible would be dealt with accordingly.

Meanwhile, Electoral Commissioner Simon Sinai warned that anyone caught pulling down or burning campaign posters and election materials or paraphernalia would be fined or imprisoned.

Shirley Mauludu is a National newspaper reporter. Republished with permission.

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