By Miriam Zarriga in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinean police are investigating serious firearms offences allegedly involving five candidates contesting the election in the Highlands region.
The candidates in two different provinces are being investigated for the use of firearms at campaign rallies, for firing an unlicensed firearm, being in possession of a firearm and being in possession of a stolen vehicle.
The interest of police in the five candidates comes three weeks after the close of nomination in Southern and Western Highlands provinces.
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Police fear that without proper manpower support, polling and counting in the two provinces will be the bloodiest with the high number of firearms being used and allegedly gathered by supporters of candidates.
The investigation comes after a two-week firearms amnesty ended on May 19.
Police Commissioner David Manning has issued instructions for all police personnel to arrest and charge anyone found to be be “manufacturing homemade guns, illegal ownership and possession of firearms, illegal possession and use of firearms, illegal possession of prohibited firearms and ownership and [in] possession of machine guns”.
However, a police source said the talks on arrests of those in possession of firearms would not occur without proper support of police.
‘What can police do?’
“Candidates are known to support their supporters with firearms but what can police do?” the source said.
“They can only arrest those they catch, the buy-back scheme of firearms and the recent firearms amendment will not stop the influx of firearms into the country, especially the Highlands region.”
Police Minister William Onglo has said: “Candidates need to lead by example, when you as a candidate don’t lead by example you show your supporters that they can do what they want.
“That needs to end, you want to be a leader and you are putting your hand up, this means whatever happens with your supporters you as their candidate must tell them what they are doing is wrong and if need be report them,” he said.
SHP police commander Chief Inspector Daniel Yangen said that with the instruction from Commissioner Manning and the amendments to the Firearms Act, if the candidates were found to be supplying and supporting the use of firearms in this election they will be charged by the SHP Election taskforce team.
“We see supporters moving around the province brandishing weapons but they hide their firearms, but when it comes to confrontations, suddenly firearms are brought out,” PPC Yangen said.
A high level group of observers in the 2017 National General Election made several recommendations on security to be looked at prior to the 2022 Election. However, these changes have not been made.
Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.