THERE was mayhem in Goroka town yesterday as two rival clans from the upper Asaro area of Eastern Highlands province clashed outside the Goroka courthouse, with the fighting spilling into the police station.
Several of the villagers were injured, two vehicles smashed, and 53 of the villagers were arrested and locked up in the police cell.
The attack was connected to a long-standing dispute over the ownership of a coffee plantation in upper Asaro, which is pending before the National Court.
It is believed that certain influential leaders from the rival parties instigated them to attack each other over the pending case.
The villagers, who were armed with bush knives, sticks, stones and home-made guns, attacked each other in the court premises, with several men from both factions sustaining serious injuries.
The violent action disrupted court sittings at both the National and District Court and sent workers and general public fleeing from the courthouse.
Court cases scheduled to be heard at the time of the incident were disrupted and had to be adjourned.
Leaders of the two factions and their tribesmen are likely to face contempt charges for obstructing the work of the courts.
As the rival factions were fighting, which spilled onto the town streets, police intervened to quell the situation but one of the factions attacked the police.
Police reinforcements were called in and they rounded up 53 men from one group, charging them under the Criminal Code Act for fighting.
They were locked up in the already overcrowded police cell.
Other charges of contempt of court, inciting acts of violence, possession of offensive weapons and related charges are likely to follow.
Eastern Highlands provincial police commander acting Chief Supt Augustine Wampe last night condemned the actions of the two factions.
He said they should have gone through the legal process to sort out their long-standing dispute over the ownership of the coffee plantation.
“I warned the two factions on several occasions not to take the law into their own hands and let the court settle their dispute, but they would not listen,” he said.
He said the police would not bow down to people who see fit to come into town to fight each other, saying police would deal with them firmly to deter others from doing the same.
Acting Chief Supt Wampe said there were several previous instances of rival factions coming into Goroka town in truckloads to attack each other.
He said police were there to maintain peace and order and they should be respected at all cost.
“There is no point in trying to attack them when they are trying to protect the public and properties and even those involved in the fight,” he added.