THE use of firearms in the killing of five people in a village outside Port Moresby has sparked concern about the presence of firearms in Motuan villages that were once considered to be peaceful and weapons-free.
Hospital authorities have confirmed that five people were killed in the clash between Porebada and Boera villagers on Sunday, and firearms were responsible for their deaths.
Esso Highlands Ltd, ExxonMobil’s PNG subsidiary, announced yesterday that work on the PNG LNG project in the Portion 152 area had been temporarily suspended as a result of the clash.
Deputy Prime Minister Sir Puka Temu and Community Development Minister Dame Carol Kidu rushed to the area to talk to local leaders as tension mounted in fear of payback by the Porebada people. All those killed were from Porebada.
Sir Puka told The National yesterday that the cause of the fight was unclear and police were investigating the clash.
Several stories have emerged as to what really happened on Sunday.
Sir Puka said those killed were all below the age of 40. “The main story which we have all heard is about a corridor road on the block of land known as Portion 152 which lies between the two villages and the conflict as to who is the rightful landowner.
“As Papuan leaders in the Government, Dame Carol and I are truly sorry this situation has escalated into such an enormity, that is why we travelled to Porebada early this morning to be with the people during this time of mourning to listen and to bounce off their grievances,” Sir Puka said. He condemned the killings, adding that a full report would be released after police completed their investigations.
Sir Puka also met with Esso Highlands managing director Peter Graham to discuss the issue.
Esso described the fight and killings as a tragic event for the communities involved.
“The project has temporarily suspended work in the area out of respect for the victims and their families.
“The safety and security of our workforce and the communities in which we operate are of the utmost importance and we are monitoring the situation closely.
“It is too early to speculate on the cause of this incident and we expect the police investigation will provide important information in that respect,” the company said.
Sources from the area told The National that Boera village has been deserted, with people fleeing to the bushes in fear of retaliation by Porebada villagers.
“People fearing for their lives have left their villages. The Boera village is small in population compared to Porebada,” a source said.
Police have been unable to gain access into the Papa-Lealea area as villagers yesterday blocked off the roads, impeding their entry, according to National Capital District police chief of operations, Supt Andy Bawa.
Supt Bawa said four deaths were reported on Sunday, but Porebada villagers brought in another dead body in the early hours of yesterday, taking the death toll to five.
“Four police units have been dispatched to the area to monitor the situation, which remains very tense.
“The units will be patrolling the Papa-Lealea roads and we are trying to negotiate with the community leaders to enter the village,” Supt Bawa said.
Director of Emergency Services at the Port Moresby General Hospital, Dr Sam Yockopua, said all deaths received at the Accident and Emergency section were from gunshot wounds.
Dr Yockopua said two people who sustained gunshot and knife injuries were stable and receiving treatment.
Government officials said the presence of firearms in those villages was a concern.
“You would not expect firearms in Motuan villages. With guns used in the killings, the law and order situation may worsen,” a Government official said, asking not to be named.