The National, Monday 07th November 2011
A STATE of emergency will be declared in the violence-raked industrial city of Lae if the situation does not return to normal today, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in Port Moresby yesterday.
The prime minister’s announcement came as a 120-member police detachment from three mobile squads fought to restore order in Lae.
Yesterday, The National independently confirmed five dead and 26 injured.
However, the numbers of deaths and those injured could be higher with the prime minister’s official statement citing nine people dead.
Allegations by relatives of the dead and the wounded that the shooting was by police could not be confirmed last night.
Many claimed police shot discriminately and would not allow the wounded and dead past roadblocks to be transported to the hospital, claims which again elicited no response from the police.
Many thousands of kina worth of properties, homes and businesses were damaged in the violence.
Already Lae and surrounding areas had been declared a fighting zone with stringent control on the movement of people from November until January.
The spate of violence began last Thursday in Top Town after a protest march over crime in Lae went terribly wrong and spread over the weekend into the nearby settlements of Kamkumung, Bumayong and Butibam.
Displaced settlers, mainly from the highlands, were gathered at a church and police barracks calling for relief assistance and repatriation to their provinces of origin.
Lae residents were queuing for provisions at tucker boxes and those few shops that remained open over the weekend.
The prime minister was at pains to point out that a state of emergency would be the “last option” but it will be imposed if order was not restored today.
“I would like to see life in the city return to normal tomorrow (today) and businesses allowed to open their doors,” he said.
“Lae is an important port city. It is our industrial hub. Its port provides a vital link for businesses in many parts of the country. A shutdown will not only cripple businesses but will affect the economy. We cannot allow this.”
O’Neill said an investigation would establish the cause of the uprising.
Internal Security Minister John Boito and acting Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga were expected to visit Lae today to assess the situation.