By DANIEL KUMBON
EVEN if my new book, ‘Survivor – Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms’, a collection of three true stories about women in Enga had been published on time, I would not have been able to travel to Australia.
My family and I have been confined to our house for the last few days due to shocking election-related violence, death and destruction in Wabag town where I live.
The violent scenes I witnessed many years ago and described in my new book were played out again in Wabag last Saturday.
Three political supporters and two policemen were shot dead. A third policeman was airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment. The assistant returning officer for Kandep and two other people are in critical condition in Wabag hospital. Returning officer Ben Besawe narrowly escaped death when the vehicle he was travelling in was sprayed with bullets.
Gunshots were heard for the next few days as security forces and supporters of some Kandep candidates exchanged fire.
I saw social media images of a gunman shot dead and lying in a ditch after he had shot three men, including two policemen, and injured another mobile squad member staying at Kids Inn at Sangrap.
I have seen smoke billowing from burning shops and cars and people running for cover in the small township.
On Monday, police commissioner Gary Baki flew in with reinforcements bringing some normalcy to the town and allowing people to breathe easier.
He enforced a lockdown, restricting movement of traffic and people until today when all ballot boxes will have been counted for the Enga regional seat and the Wabag, Wapenamanda and Laiagam seats.
The Kompiam-Ambum electorate has seen John Pundari win back his seat. Kandep counting has been suspended indefinitely.
This record of events is from my diary:
Wednesday July 19: Heard about 12 gunshots early this morning. Heard that 21 remaining ballot boxes for Kandep had been tampered with last night. Right now Alfred (Manasseh) is leading with over 15,000 votes followed by Don Polye on 11,000 votes. Don Polye’s base vote boxes have reportedly not been counted yet. Went into town at about midday. I took a short-cut up a steep gradient. But police and soldiers at the top turned me back. They said Wabag town was shut down due to last night’s problems. I turned back, walked up to the Porgera bus stop and turned right towards the BSP Bank. Everything was closed. Wabag was a ghost town.
Thursday July 20: Yesterday there were gunshots. But today security forces have secured the town. Some services like the bank, shops and post office are open again.
Friday July 21: There is dancing in the street. I hear John Pundari has been re-elected to the Kompiam Ambum seat. The ballot boxes for Kandep are still disputed, not counted yet. Wonder what Ben Besawe (Kandep district returning officer) is doing. I am sure he will be neutral and think about people’s lives first.
Many have suffered and over 100 people died following the 2012 election violence. That wasn’t that long ago.
Saturday July 22: Julie (my wife) has just told me about a bad dream she had last night. I decided if I should go home to Kandep today. But she said I must wait till next week. Luckily I didn’t go. Between 7am – 8am there were many gunshots coming from the Lankep area to the north. It seemed as if there was a war on. Soon there were reports of casualties.
There were reports that Ben Besawe, Kandep returning officer, his assistant George Marke and a couple of others in their car had been ambushed outside their hotel and shot dead. They were travelling in a ten-seater to Wabag Primary School to resume counting.
A while later there were more shots. This time in the direction of Sangurap to the west. Soon there were reports of casualties. Two supporters of Alfred Manasseh were shot dead by police. One of them had shot dead three policemen before he was killed. The same gunman had first shot dead one of Don Polye’s supporters. Then police had shot off one of his legs. While bleeding in a storm water drain opposite the Kids Inn, he shot at the three policemen perhaps to avenge himself before he died. A little later I heard George Marke was still in critical condition but not dead as reported earlier. And Ben Besawe was lucky to be alive after he missed a bullet aimed at him.
Heard more gunshots. Heard two men lying dead in a drain at Sangurap. Saw pictures of them lying there in the drain on Facebook.
Terrible, sad day for Enga. I see police choppers hovering in the air. I saw the car used to attack Ben Besawe and George burning on Lankep Street. It had been abandoned on the street and the assailants had escaped into the notorious Kop Creek gorges. Then I hear two policemen had been shot dead by a gunman. A third was fighting for his life. Why kill policemen who had come to protect us to conduct our stupid election in safety?
My own brother, the late Inspector Peter Pyaso, was killed by Lakain tribesmen in Kompiam when he went to stop a tribal fight there in 1992 with his Mobile Squad 9. I am always upset when people kill policemen. Why kill them when they try to maintain peace? I saw several police cars travelling in a convoy remove bodies from the morgue and (and) take them to Mommers soccer oval. Saw a chopper take the bodies away towards Mt Hagen. Very sad sight.
Later in the afternoon, heard gunshots very near my house. I cannot count how many shots were fired. All my family crammed into one room terrified. A few of us ventured outside minutes later. I saw dark brownish smoke bellowing into the air. People said two of Alfred Manasseh’s cars and two others belonging to the local Apiap tribesmen were burning. A store belonging to a young Apiap man was also burning. Very sad.
“It takes a long time to make a man. Why shoot policemen down like this?” a woman heard a policeman say while mourning his colleague’s deaths. How true, why all this wanton killing? At 6pm, I saw a news bulletin on EMTV news confirming that the two policemen killed were from Special Operations Mobile police based in Mt Hagen. A third had been airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment.
I saw Don Polye condemning the carnage on EMTV news that same evening. It’s a sad, sad day indeed.
Sunday July 23: I hear police commissioner Gary Baki will come to Wabag tomorrow. At 3am heard more gunshots – about 6-10 in all. People attempting to destroy ballot papers? Attempting to take revenge? Fed up hearing gunshots. By daybreak, I hear birds singing as sweetly as ever, as if nothing happened yesterday. Life goes on?
Monday July 24: Saw a lone chopper flying in. Gary Baki must be coming. I have been at home all day today and during the weekend. With the police commissioner here I feel enlightened. He is encouraging his men to complete the task at hand – which is complete providing security so counting can be completed despite losing two of their number and one fighting for his life. I must applaud the police, brave and committed.
As an educated elite from Kandep, I personally feel that counting should be suspended for the good of all village people until 2022. The governor and administrator of the province can run the affairs of this unfortunate district for the next five years. The people do not seem deserving of a representative in parliament.
Over 100 people lost their lives and millions of kina worth (of) property following the 2012 national elections and it looks like more people will die this time round if counting is continued and a winner is declared. Indefinite suspension of counting will satisfy all parties and (the) vast majority of Kandep people. Let no more people die in a struggle for only one man to enjoy power.
- Daniel Kumbon is an author
and freelance writer.