By ANDREW ALPHONSE in TARI
THE Tari police station in Southern Highlands province was virtually empty yesterday morning at about 11am.
There was hardly anybody in the blue uniform present.
The metal gate to the police station building was also locked.
A lone auxiliary policeman in civilian clothes was manning the station from outside the building.
“There are no police officers around. I am just looking after the station since everyone has gone off from work.
“Some have gone to Mendi and Mt Hagen while others are providing security for companies,” the auxiliary policeman said.
There were no prisoners or detainees in the cells.
Outside the police station and on the highway that leads out of the town to Koroba and Komo, hordes of locals with complaints were standing in groups trying to resolve their conflicts through local tribal means out of the normal court system as there were no police to attend to them.
This was what The National observed during an impromptu visit to the station yesterday.
Local youth Rex Kombo Naia said this had been the scenario in Tari in the past years and nothing much had changed despite all the political rhetoric and Government announcements of increased police presence in the area with the coming multi-billion kina PNG LNG project.
“The complainants are supposed to have their conflicts resolved at the police station.But since there are no policemen at the station, they try to resolve it through the mediation of local village leaders and if that fails, they take the law into their own hands,” Mr Naia said pointing to crowd of people outside the station.
Tari is the headquarters of Hela region which would soon become a province of its own.
However, he said the lack of police action had contributed to a recent upsurge of criminal activities and increased lawlessness.
Local leaders yesterday said the local police were providing security and escorts for local Hela politicians, businessmen, oil and gas field landowner, business houses and other major investors in the region like ExxonMobil, Oil Search Ltd and Porgera gold mine.
They said the current rise in crime and lawlessness in the area was a matter of grave concern.
Church and local authorities in Tari called on Police Commissioner Gari Baki to immediately look at the situation in Tari and Hela and do something about it.
Hela region United church bishop Rev Wai Tege said petty crimes like bag snatching, drunken brawls, tribal fights, road blocks and armed robbery were frequent in the area and the local police could not contain the situation.