By Miriam Zarriga of the PNG Post-Courier
A brutal massacre in Porgera town yesterday afternoon in which 18 innocent people were killed has rocked Enga province and shocked Papua New Guinea.
Local police chief acting Superintendent George Kakas was shocked by the act of violence in the wake of the country’s national elections — he was left speechless when told by field officers about the killings.
Last night, caretaker Prime Minister James Marape said Porgera was now in a state of emergency.
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“We have called out additional manpower from both the military and police, not just for Porgera but for other areas that need special assistance as well,” he said.
“We will beef up security as election requirements have diluted normal police work and the present killing is related to an ongoing tribal fight.”
In his policing career, Kakas has seen worse but yesterday’s act was one he thought was the work of a deranged mob who had no respect for the sanctity of life.
Of the 18 dead, 13 were men and 5 were women. They were going about their normal lives when men armed with machetes and axes hacked them to death.
Hour of wanton destruction
It was an hour of wanton destruction in which no one in the path of the rampaging tribesmen was spared, Kakas said.
Pictures of the dead posted online showed a trail of destruction with murderous intent. It seemed none of the dead had any chance of escaping.
In one picture, a woman clad in a PNG meri blouse lay next to a young girl, probably her daughter.
In another, a man and a woman lie side by side, having fallen where they were attacked.
The woman is on her knees, cowering in a foetal position, probably having begged for mercy — a futile attempt to evade the inevitable.
Men examining the scene looking for relatives were shown carrying bush knives and axes.
In turbulent Enga these are normal weapons.
Disputed gold mine
Porgera is the site of the disputed giant gold mine which has been closed for almost two years.
A violent tribal fight between the Aiyala and Nomali tribes has been raging, which has severely affected the elections in that part of the region.
The 18 deaths brings to 70 the number of people killed in Porgera in the past four months.
Although an emergency was declared in Porgera, the fighting between Aiyala and Nomali has continued, Superintendent Kakas said.
Security forces are present in Porgera Town. Together with local police, there are about 150 police and army personnel, however they are outnumbered by the tribal warriors, who are heavily armed.
“The 13 men and 5 women were killed in Paiam and Upper Porgera on Wednesday afternoon,” Kakas said.
Of the 18, five people were killed in Upper Porgera Station and 13 people killed at Paiam.
“Out of the 18 deaths, 3 men from Porgera town area were killed by Kandeps. This killing related to the ongoing tribal fight at Paiam has now escalated to Pogera Town.”
Troops moving in
“Police Commissioner David Manning said last night the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) contribution troops for the task force were in the process of moving into Enga.
“There is no SOE declared, 120 soldiers from the 2nd PIR Bravo Company were sent in yesterday afternoon. They are based in Wabag and once all logistics are in place, they will further deploy to the electorates of Porgera, Laiagam, and Kompiam and join their RPNGC MS counterparts who are currently on the ground.”
Manning said the task force had 60 days to restore the rule of law in the electorates, secure the mine and provide protection for repairs to be done on damaged bridges –– especially on the Wabag-Kompiam road.
“We received reports of continuous killings in Porgera that began over the weekend. Priority deployment is to the Porgera valley, to quell the fighting between the local Porgereans and settlers from other parts of Enga Province,” he said.
“We have received urgent pleas to also evacuate non-Engans who currently work up there — for them to be escorted to safety.
“The 3 meter wide, 4-5 meter deep trench that was dug across the Surinki stretch of Wabag-Porgera road is still undergoing repairs. However, a temporary bypass has been constructed to allow traffic.”
Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.