Kagamuga Airport closed as locals protest

National, Normal


MT Hagen’s Kagamuga Airport was closed for three hours yesterday morning as locals demanded an explanation from police over an alleged unlawful shooting and wounding of a young man.
All flights in and out of the province were delayed resulting in travellers booked for morning flights being left stranded at the airport, as the Yamka Pepka tribesmen, who are customary landowners to the airport area, held their peaceful protest.
The control tower and the two main gates were shut from 7am to 10am as the locals petitioned the police, but were later reopened when police said they would address the matter.
They have given the state a K1.5 million compensation demand, among others presented in the petition, which have to be met in two weeks time.
The locals have threatened to shut down the airport indefinitely if the government does not respond favourably to their petition within the 14-day period.
Being the major regional airport, flight schedules were reportedly affected as chartered flights to Porgera gold mine and the liquefied natural gas project also operate from Kagamuga.
The protest followed an incident last Friday where police allegedly shot and wounded James Paraka,19, from the Yamka tribe at the airport.
Paraka was in the company of his tribesmen who had been involved in a stone fight with Engans living near the airport after an Engan man allegedly attempted to rape a local woman.
The fight started on the main highway near the provincial education office, about 1km from the airport, when the Engans failed to properly compensate the woman’s people.
 The fight spilled to the airport and attracted members of the police force who were awaiting the arrival of the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to officiate the launching of the Mt Hagen city redevelopment plan.
Paraka, while being chased by police, had reportedly put his hands up to surrender but was shot on his left palm and right shoulder andwas admitted to the Mt Hagen General Hospital.
Through the petition, the locals demanded that the state pay K1.5 million compensation, which would also cater for future expenses.