Outgunned, outnumbered

Main Stories, National


THE two armed police mobile squads (MS) deployed to stop tribal fights in Sembirigi have found themselves outnumbered by tribesmen roaming about with rocket launchers, Mag 54 chain link bullet assault rifles, AK 47, machine-guns and other firearms.
MS 10 and 8 from Mendi and Kerowagi respectively were sent there on Feb 1 to try and end the tribal war in the Kagua-Erave district, Southern Highlands province.
Instead, they were unable to do anything to get the feuding tribesmen to lay down their arms.
Provincial police commander Supt Jimmy Onopia said the Imaua and Lualipu tribesmen and their allies were fully armed with high-powered firearms and outnumbering the police.
“The fight is likely to result in more deaths but the presence of the MS members have managed to stop the fight for now.
“Only two people from the warring sides were killed when the fight started late last month and not 11 as reported by Post-Courier,” he said.
Supt Onopia said MS members were seeing tribesmen moving around with machine-guns, rocket launchers, AK47, Mag 54 chain link bullet assault rifles, M16 and other high-powered guns but they could not do anything.
“They have more fire power and more men than us,” he said, adding that the built-up of firearms in the area was through the exchange of marijuana.
Supt Onopia said police confiscated 25kg of dried marijuana and found that many villagers grew marijuana as their only source of income because they could not transport their produce to sell due to lack of road access. “They  sail down the Erave River down to Purari and then to Orokolo Bay to exchange their marijuana for guns.
“Sometimes, the drug dealers would travel up by boat and buy marijuana from the people or sometimes exchange the drug for guns.
“The guns for marijuana trade is flourishing in the area and there is a big need for the police and authorities to address it,” he added.
Supt Onopia said since Sembirigi was only accessible by plane, it was very difficult for the police to monitor the guns and marijuana trade.
“I am seeking some funds to deploy policemen to be permanently based in the area and also open up the Sembirigi airport. It’s a very big concern to see locals in possession of such heavy firearms.
“MS 8 members have returned after 21 days of duty but MS10 members are still in the area assisted by general duty policemen from Kagua,” Supt Onopia said.