Remembering fallen police officers in the Pacific

Weekender

By DAPHNE WANI
SOMEWHERE, in the cold misty mountains of the highlands, or the sunny shores of the coast, a woman is pained by the loss of her husband. Through the lonely days nights, she wonders how life for her and her children will become, now that they are without him.
Her husband, a policeman, has put his life on the line, and lost it in the fight to serve and protect the community.
The beat that he walked was a battlefield too, just as if he’d gone off to war. And although the flag of our nation won’t fly at half-mast in his honour, he will be remembered and his name recorded in a hallowed place.
Since the start of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC), as we know it today, in the 1970s, many members of the force have lost their lives in the line of duty.   Once every year, they are remembered in a ceremony.
On Friday Sept 29 this year, six members of the RPNGC and their colleagues from Australia, New Zealand and around the Pacific who died in the last 12 months were remembered during the Police Remembrance Day dawn service at the Bomana Police College, outside Port Moresby.
Members of the RPNGC, Australian Federal Police and relatives gathered to witness and remember the lives of these slain officers.
Police Remembrance Day falls on Sept 29 each year to coincide with the Feast Day of the Archangel Michael – the Patron of the Police.
An historic Police memorial plaque was also unveiled by Police Minister Jelta Wong and Police Commissioner Gari Baki at the special service. In tribute, wreaths were laid and a one minute silence was observed in respect to the fallen officers, Sergeant Andrew Naikaban, Constable Samuel Kepa, Senior Constable Paul Langa, Senior Constable Joshua Bailai, First Constables Alex Kopa and Glen Jimmy and also Senior Constable Brett Andrew Forte from Queensland in Australia.
Sergeant Naikaban of Nuku Police Station in West Sepik was killed in an accident on a PMV truck whilst attending to official police business on Nov 18, 2016. He was forced to travel on public transport as there was no police vehicle in that remote part of the district.
Constable Kepa of Badili Police Station, NCD was killed in a shooting incident on Dec 15, 2016 while trying to apprehend an armed drug suspect.
Senior Constable Langa of Kimbe Police Station in West New Britain died in a car accident on Mar 27, whilst on patrol to a logging camp.
Senior Constable Bailai of Special Services Division in Mount Hagen, Western Highlands died in a car accident whilst on duty travel along the Highlands Highway.
First Constables Kopa and Jimmy of Special Services Division, based in Mount Hagen in Western Highlands were shot dead on July 22, this year during election-related violence in Wabag in Enga.
On remembering these men, Commissioner Baki made some vital observations.
“Today is a very significant day especially for the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary to devote a full day to partaking in these ceremonies to remember our colleagues who have died.  We can do so because we now have a National Police Memorial here at Bomana Police College. Our men and women who have died in the service of God, Queen and Country now have a place where they will be permanently honored and remembered. I intend to and will ensure that as many names of those who have died in the line of duty are recorded and engraved on this monument to be acknowledged by generations to come.”
“It is only fitting that the members of the Special Services Division are taking part in this inaugural Beating of the Retreat. Those members of the SSD who have died on Bougainville will also have their names on the monument. I intend to convert the Police Memorial Park into a historical museum of sorts. The area you see between the chapel and the Police Memorial will be done up and memorabilia, relics and other significant historical police items will be erected.”
“In one of my travels to Morobe Province I visited Salamaua where I stumbled upon the lone grave of a New Guinea Police Officer. There are also other sites around the country and I want to have them all put together in one place. I also intend to build a Police Museum as well. Entering the museum will be like a travel back in time.”
“You may well ask why should we bother. Well the reason is that to know where you are going, you need to know where you have come. The RPNGC is not just any organization. We have a long and proud history going back some 129 years. Knowing our history helps build pride, instill discipline and urges the pursuit of excellence, for benchmarks have been set and we only have to improve upon what has been laid by those who have gone before us.”
“On the same token, members on parade, ladies and gentlemen, many of you may be asking why do we bother with these ceremonies. Why should we wake up very early in the morning for the dawn service, then come on parade again for the Beating of the Retreat. Well, first, this is our commitment to our fallen brothers and sisters. We are not simply going through a motion trying to get a chore over and done as quickly as possible but truly honouring and remembering those who have died. Yes, we will remember them. Yes, we will remember their sacrifice.”
Tragically, a day after the commemorative ceremony, two more officers were shot dead in what the commissioner described as an incident linked to the declaration of the Southern Highlands regional seat.
While other members of their team managed to escape, Constables Andy Kotange and David Kundu where shot at close.
“This has nothing to do with police work. My officers were killed because of politics. Police have been faithfully providing security and maintaining peace during the elections. And at the end, people turn around and shoot my officers,” an exasperated Baki lamented.
The bodies of the two fallen officers were flown down to Port Moresby several days after the killing.
Late Constable Kotange was a young patriotic man from Hela who served at the Koroba Police Station since early 2000 after he graduated from the Bomana Police College.
He returned to his province to serve as a police officer because he believed that one day Hela would be a province of its own and he wanted to help bring peace and order there.
He and his colleague Kundu were gunned down along the Wara Anga road in Southern Highlands while on duty.
His brother Akolo Kotange said that the news came as a shock to the family.
The story is the same the world over. Police men and women who give their lives to protect lives and property, many times find themselves in the line of fire.  And families, whose grief is worsened by the fact that they never said goodbye.
It is only fitting, that we stop to remember the sacrifices of these brave men and women on 29 Sept, every year.

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