The National, Wednesday July 18th, 2012
By LESLIE OMARO
HELICOPTERS that were reportedly flying over PNG Defence Force armed soldiers to Esa’ala on Monday caused a stir in Milne Bay.Late yesterday, the police helicopter, “The Eye in the Sky” – one of the two helicopters that were flying – landed in Alotau next to the Airways Hotel.
It attracted curious onlookers. Nearly everyone in town was aware about the flying machines dashing to Esa’ala during election. The pilot of the helicopter was an expatriate and was seen talking to two uniformed police officers for about half an hour. Meanwhile, provincial administrator and chairman of the provincial election steering committee (PESC) Henry Bailasi said the committee had met and endorsed returning officer Michael Kape’s decision to suspend counting for the electorate.“The PESC endorsed the decision of the returning officer as of yesterday and will remain suspended until the contingent of armed soldiers is withdrawn from Esa’ala district and Milne Bay province,” he said.
Bailasi said the provincial authorities also established later that the deployment of the choppers was without the police commissioner’s knowledge.“The committee suspects that an aggrieved candidate misrepresented the facts on the counting of ballot papers on Esa’ala to a rogue authority that responded unreasonably by using state resources.“The provincial authorities were completely taken by surprise at the presence of the choppers with their cargo of heavily armed soldiers at Alotau where they stopped over to refuel on their way to Esa’ala.”“The soldiers are still at Esa’ala and hunting for the returning officer who has gone into hiding. The committee has fears for the safety of election officers and the ballot boxes.
“The longer the soldiers remain at Esa’ala, the more the likelihood of something going wrong which could trigger civil unrest in the district. This is something we do not want to happen.”