When will enough be enough? Port Moresby’s struggle with ethnic war

Port Moresby ethnic clashes
"When will Port Moresby truly rise above its ethnic cleansing bloodbath rituals to become the modern Amazing City of cross cultures that it professes to be, and that every peace loving Papua New Guinean wants to enjoy?" Image: PNG Post-Courier

SPECIAL REPORT: By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby

Port Moresby’s “amazing city” tag in Papua New Guinea is fast losing its varnish and appeal — its veneer of a modern metropolis tarnished by an ethnic underbelly that relishes criminal activity, racial violence and a tendency to unleash aggressive violent behavior at any opportune time.

Last weekend’s violence which left three people dead is the fifth such “amazing act” this year, says an exasperated Police Commissioner David Manning.

The question, raised on social media, in homes, schools, offices, among local landowners, the Motu Koitabu, and discussed in pubs and boardrooms across the city, is: “When will enough be enough?’

When will Port Moresby truly rise above its ethnic cleansing bloodbath rituals to become the modern Amazing City of cross cultures that it professes to be, and that every peace loving Papua New Guinean wants to enjoy?

A drug deal gone wrong has sparked a deadly ethnic war between Eastern Highlands and Hela province people living in Port Moresby.

Yesterday, the fight was violent around the Erima, Wildlife, 8 and 9 Mile settlement areas as pitched battles raged.

NCD Governor Powes Parkop called for calm and for peace to return, adding it is against the law to carry offensive weapons in public.

‘Leave it to police’ call
Commissioner Manning also called for calm and for the warring parties to lay down their arms and let police investigate the killings.

As of last night, three men were dead and six wounded who were being treated at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

Last night, Gordon, Erima, Wildlife, 8 and 9 Mile were tense with police patrols keeping a close watch on those areas.

The ethnic clash, the fifth so far this year, is putting a huge dent on the National Capital Diustrict Commission’s (NCDC) effort to promote the capital city’s image as “Amazing Moresby”.

On social media, angry residents have taken not so kindly to the fighting with many urging the government to clamp down on ethnic groups from the Highlands by returning all settlers back to their province of origin.

The Vagrancy Act, which enables police to evict illegal settlers in the city, was thrown out at Independence, which has led to a growing settlement population in the city.

But fed up Motu Koitabu landowners and angry residents want the city cleaned up.

A call for martial law
One commentator even called for martial law to be enacted and the city cleaned of all illegal settlers.

The flare-up between men from the Eastern Highlands and Hela provinces has sent innocent women and children scattering for cover and refuge.

It is alleged the death of a man from Eastern Highlands during a drug deal is said to have started the fight. The police, however, cannot say much, but could only confirm that an investigation has commenced on the issue.

The roads around Erima and 9 Mile saw men and women running with offensive weapons.

While police tried their best to make their presence felt during the chaos, they were outnumbered as scores of men continued to fight.

Commissioner Manning said that any ethnic clashes at other major centres in the country were “unnecessary” and “unfortunate”.

“It is concerning how people can employ their tribal tactics and think that they can clash with other groups in the cities and towns,” he said.

These ethnic clashes are a result of a lack of appropriate policing interventions.

Why have settlements grown?
Furthermore, there are a lot of discussions on why we have allowed settlements to grow in the last two to three decades and whether those settlements contribute to these ethnic clashes, he added.

Meanwhile, NCD Governor Parkop warned city residents carrying weapons who have gone unnoticed.

Bows and arrows, machetes, iron bars, stones and other dangerous weapons were seen publicly yesterday at the Gordon bus stop and Erima with the ethnic clash still tense with police continuously patrolling the area.

City Manager Ravu Frank said this kind of behaviour was illegal. Unfortunately, lives have been lost. City residents have to move around freely and not be in fear of their safety.

The parties concerned must air their grievances to police.

Commissioner Manning said ethnic clashes were no longer restricted to rural centres and it had greater impact on everyone’s lives and gave concern to a lot of people, especially government and police when it happened in the urban environment.

In 2022 alone, five ethnic clashes have erupted between different groups — mostly from the Highlands region.

Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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