LNG project locals block roads after row with cops

National, Normal

The National – Monday, June 20, 2011

IRATE landowners from Hides, Komo and Angore have blocked off roads leading to the LNG project sites.
Reports from Hides yesterday indicated that major bridges and access roads leading to well heads, plant sites, quarries and other construction areas had been blocked.
Attempts yesterday to get comments from the police in the Southern Highlands and at police headquarters were unsuccessful.
Attempts to also get comments from ExxonMobil failed.
According to Wilson and Willie Ayule of Hides 4 PDL7 and Hare Hengi, chairman of Wita Arua Holdings, there were deep trenches on the road between the Nongoli Camp, Hides 4 conditioning plant site, Komo Airport and Hides1.
Ayule said it all started when policemen believed to be from  Mt Hagen forcefully retrieved a vehicle which had been confiscated by the relatives of the women who were run over by it at Nogoli last week.
The women had died instantly. Five men were also injured in that incident.
Ayule said the police allegedly clashed with relatives who wanted to know why they were taking the vehicle away.
One of the landowners, John Kalomo, said the villagers then forcefully took over five other vehicles believed to be owned by ExxonMobil.
However, he said a reinforced police later retrieved all the vehicles.
Ayule said the situation got out of hand because of the unresolved issues between the landowners, the State and ExxonMobil.
“They got one backhoe from CCJV and dug up deep holes near the quarry, the road between Nogoli and Hides 4, Hides 4-Komo junction and also blocked off Tagali River between Tari and Hides,” Ayule said.
“The police are to be blamed for the problem at Hides and Komo. They did not follow the (proper) process in retrieving the first vehicle from the relatives (of the deceased).
“They forced people and harassed them. And they did the same to the aggrieved landowners who had (taken over) the five other vehicles.
“Now they have to tell ExxonMobil and the state whose interest they were acting for.”
Ayule said major activities on all project sites came to a halt expect for minor activities at Hides 4, Komo Airport.
There was no movement of vehicles in and out of Hides and Komo. 
All roads leading to Tari, Hides, and Komo are cut off.
“It seems like the situation is tense and will definitely become like another Bougainville.
“All the landowners want now is the state to come to Hides and Komo and talk to the landowners.
“If they ignore and use the police, it will definitely be like Bougainville as all landowners are up in arms.”
Meanwhile, small landowner companies involved in the early works of the LNG project construction are losing money each day when project works shut down, Juha Joint Venture chairman Hengebe Haluya said.
Haluya appealed to the government and police hierarchy to discipline policemen involved in the harassment, assault and intimidation of landowners who have since destroyed three bridges in Hides, forcing a LNG work stoppage.
“My company started from scratch without any seed funding, MoA and ministerial commitments from the government.” Haluya said yesterday.
He said landowners wanted the LNG project construction to be on schedule, “but some rogue policemen are causing problems with the landowners”.
“The more we stop work, we are losing money,” Haluya said.
He raised the issue after landowners removed three bridges between Hides PDL 1 and 7, forcing a stop work on the LNG project.
Haluya said angry landowners felled the Tugu, Tumbi and Kuara bridges.
He said many landowners had died while anxiously waiting for the long delayed MoA and ministerial commitment funds.
Haluya said politicians in Waigani “are delaying the payments and sacking ministers without seriously addressing landowner issues”.
He said recently two police vehicles raided the two deceased women’s village and arrested 10 leaders who were locked up in Tari and released on K2,000 bail.
The angry landowners then dismantled the three bridges in retaliation over the police action.
“We call on the commanders of Western Highlands and Southern Highlands to immediately take action against those policemen involved.”
Haluya said not every policeman was involved but “one or two who were bringing a bad name to the police”.
“We, the landowners, want to deliver the LNG project on schedule and such harassment, intimidation and threats will not help the project”.
“We, the landowner companies participating on the early works, are losing money because of the behaviour of police and a very slow national government response to MoA and ministerial commitments.”