The National, Monday October 21st, 2013
By JEFFREY ELAPA
TARI in Hela came to a standstill over the weekend after a standoff between soldiers and policemen, resulting in several been hospitalised, according to reports from the town.
Among those assaulted was provincial police commander Jimmy Onopia.
Reports said the incident occurred after police failed to arrest two
policemen caught smuggling big quantities of alcohol into the town from Mendi.
The sources said the policeman and his accomplice transported about 80 cartons of different brands of alcohol in a vehicle that had fake police stickers to be sold illegally in Hela, including the LNG sites.
However the vehicle was intercepted by soldiers engaged in the PNG LNG project who had set up a road block at the Mt Ambua Gap after a tip-off.
Reports said policemen in full uniform were bashed up and taken to Tari police station and handed over to their colleagues to be locked up and charged. But they were released, it was alleged.
Sources said after the incident on Friday, two soldiers were attacked by a group of policemen as they came into town to do their business.
It was alleged that the policemen also removed four of their firearms and ammunition.
The soldiers called for reinforcement as they were all over the PNG LNG site. Two vehicle-loads of soldiers arrived in Tari to rescue their comrades but were caught by a shootout with police.
The sources said the next day (Saturday) more fully armed soldiers dressed in fighting gear with machine guns arrived from Komo and took control of the Tari police station and town.
Onopia, who drove to the police station, assaulted when he failed to bring the policemen who instigated the problem and he was told that he lacked discipline, control and command.
A reporter who was present said that Onopia stood in front of the soldiers bleeding from the assault. The soldiers opened the cell blocks and allowed the prisoners to run for freedom.
Tari Hospital chief executive Dr Hewali Hamiya said six policemen and three soldiers were admitted or treated for serious injuries.
All were discharged yesterday. One injured policeman was locked up in the police cell.
Several local leaders led by Tari businessman George Tagobe, member for Komo-Magarima Francis Potape led a mediation team and managed to defuse the situation.