The National, Friday 26th April 2013
THE people of Lae city, the country’s industrial hub, are again experiencing ethnic tension and fearing an outbreak of violence following the horrific death of a young seminary student from the Kabwum district of Morobe province last weekend.
Kewa Michael was allegedly thrown out of a moving PMV bus while trying to stop some men from molesting several female passengers.
His wife and young children, who were also on the bus, witnessed this senseless act of violence.
They have been robbed of a husband and a father.
The young man’s callous death has sparked renewed rage in the local community and in wide sectors of the city and province.
“Enough is enough” is the outcry among law-abiding and God-fearing Morobeans as they grapple with the notion of ethnic cleansing.
A peaceful protest rally by more than 1,000 people in Lae on Wednesday was told Morobeans could no longer tolerate the violence and other illegal activities instigated by people from other provinces living in the city and province.
Top of their list of undesirables are Western Highlanders who have been blamed for the student’s death and other recent acts of violence in the city.
Ethnic violence is nothing new to Lae, the country’s largest port and gateway to the populous Highlands region. The Highlands Highway links Lae and Morobe to the six highlands provinces.
Migration of highlanders to Lae has been going on for the past three decades. While the numbers have fluctuated over the years, a large number of highlanders have become permanent residents in the city and their children, especially those who were born there, now call Lae and Morobe their places of origin.
These children have very few links with their parents’ provinces, aside from the occasional visits during school holidays and other family events. Indeed, they are Morobeans by place of birth and should be entitled to the same status as other Morobeans whose parents are also from the province.
So how do Morobe leaders at all levels of government confront this rather sensitive issue? Do they pursue a wholesale eviction of Western Highlanders, including parents and children? Or do they just want to rid the city and province of only the undesirables such as illegal and unemployed settlers?
We have been assured by Governor Kelly Naru that wholesale eviction is unlikely but that most PMV permits for highlands operators will be withdrawn.
While the knee-jerk reaction of the protesters and their leaders such as Nawaeb community law and order chairman Pesa Takos, is understandable, the very fact that human lives are at stake must be the bottom line in any negotiations on the eviction of Western Highlanders from Lae and Morobe.
Hopefully, common sense will prevail within the provincial executive council as it deliberates on these sensitive issues. In the meantime, the local communities must refrain from taking the law into their own hands.
By the same token, the Western Highlands community in Lae should not be held wholly responsible for the latest act of violence but must hold themselves accountable for the senseless behaviour of a minority.
Not long ago, Western Highlands community leaders pledged to uphold peace and harmony when ethnic violence in Lae claimed lives and property on both sides.
They cannot now be seen to be reneging on this promise and must take a proactive approach to helping the local Kabwum community resolve this potentially dangerous situation.
It is in their best interests to do so.
The current tension between Morobeans and Western Highlanders could well erupt into full-scale ethnic violence, something that must be avoided at all costs.
Lae city has seen more than its fair share of violence and criminal activities, which have been a thorn in the side of business and industry for a number of years.
With the current economic boom, spurred by the PNG LNG project and the Lae Port project developments, Lae can ill-afford major disruptions to business and government services. Time is money and these major projects must be delivered on time for the benefit of the country and its people.
It is critical that Morobe’s national and provincial leaders put their heads together and resolve all law and order issues, including the current ethnic tension.