By JUNIOR UKAHA
THURSDAY, June 7, 2018, is a day many residents of Hobu in Morobe will not forget for a very long time.
It was the day many of them became homeless after police burnt down their houses in a vicious raid.
It was like a scene straight out of a horror movie.
Armed policemen in a convoy of vehicles raided their compound and burnt down 27 houses, assaulted residents, gunned down a murder suspect and injured another.
The raid left more than 100 people including 75 students homeless.
The damage, according to community leader Pastor Matrus Tongoriong, cost close to a million kina.
Hobu is a community located in Ward 10 of the Nabak Local Level Government in the Nawaeb district of Morobe.
It is located about 10km north of Lae.
The raid, arson and shooting happened after a senior policeman with the local police command was stabbed and killed in Hobu by a man the night before (June, 06).
The policeman, identified as senior Constable Ben Melvin, and his unit were attending to a complaint at Hobu when he was attacked.
Someone had called police on their toll free number and reported that intoxicated youths were causing disturbances and terrorising people following the State of Origin match.
Police responded immediately but their vehicle got stuck in a puddle.
Melvin was in the driver’s seat trying to free the trapped vehicle when someone approached and stabbed him with a long dagger near his chest.
The suspect involved in the killing and his accomplices fled after realising what they did.
The policeman was rushed to the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae but was pronounced dead.
Melvin’s death did not go down well with his comrades.
They mobilised, got reinforcements and headed straight to Hobu at dawn and conducted a retaliatory raid.
The unsuspecting residents were caught off-guard.
Angry policemen began chopping banana trees, assaulted people, fired guns into the air and torched houses.
Ondonga Tau, 40, a victim of the raid, said it happened so fast that they did not have time to save anything.
“We were not ready when the police came,” Tau said.
“It (raid) happened so fast. I was inside the house when people began to shout and scream that the police are coming.
“I ran out and saw my neighbour’s house going up in flames.
“I saw armed policemen approaching my house so I escaped into the bushes with my children to save our lives.”
Tau, her husband Obias and their five children lost everything in the fire that day.
Another victim Reuben Moses, a person living with disability, had a rather brutal encounter.
Given his status, he refused to leave the house and thought that he would be spared from the attack but that was not the case.
Moses said a group of policeman entered his property, threw him off the verandah and hit him with the butt of a gun before setting his house on fire.
He was later chased into the bushes and rocks were hurled at him.
“The house was built by my father in the 1960s,” Moses said.
“We have been living in it for many years until it was set on fire by policemen.
“A piece of our family’s history has gone up in flames,” Moses said.
It was a similar story for most of the 27 families who lost their houses.
They did not save anything when they fled.
Morobe police commander Superintendent Alex N’drasal has admitted that his officers had reacted angrily following the death of their colleague.
He said police worked under very tough and stressful conditions and the killing of one of their members had negatively affected them.
Police have advised the settlers that they would not rest until the prime suspect involved in Melvin’s death faced justice.
The prime suspect, who was an escapee from the Biru jail in Northern, had trekked on foot to Baindoang village under the foothills of the Sarawaged Range trying to cross over into Boana station before reaching the Highlands Highway via Wain and Erap.
Nawaeb MP Kennedy Wenge, who was informed of the situation, acted immediately.
He mobilised some youths and they pursued the suspect.
Three days later (June, 10), they caught him at Baindoang and brought him back to Lae where he was handed over to police.
He was charged with the willful murder of a policeman and detained at the Buimo jail.
In the Melanesian way of resolving conflict, Wenge presented K17,000and seven pigs to the relatives of the late policeman the following day as bel kol payment.
The MP, through his district development authority, bought tarpaulins and distributed them to the displaced people.
“I felt sorry for my people and set up a care center for them at the Hobu Primary School,” Wenge said.
“With the assistance of the provincial disaster office we have also given them water containers, bed sheets, pillows, mosquito nets, mats and cooking utensils.
“We are trying to help them to rebuild their lives again.
“It’s a man-made disaster so man has to step in and fix it,” he said.
Leo Kautu, a project officer with the provincial disaster office, urged the people not to harbour criminals because these outlaws would give more problems to them.
Kautu urged the residents to respect each other and live in peace.
The victims in a meeting with Wenge and disaster officials admitted that alcohol abuse was the root cause of the problem that resulted in many lives being shattered.
The suspects who were involved in the policeman’s death were all under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime.
It was a drinking session which started small but eventually ended up with two lives lost, one person hospitalised, a number of people injured, 27 houses burnt and more than 100 people left homeless.
The future of the people at the care center is something the Nawaeb district and local leaders are trying to address at the moment.
The affected residents will now rebuild their lives from scratch and move on.
But like most haunting human experiences, the scars and memories from that dreadful day will be with them for a long time.
By JUNIOR UKAHA