Time to end the senseless killings

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday November 27th, 2015

 LAE City is the undisputed centre for ethnic violence in Papua New Guinea.

Hardly a day goes by without news reports about fights between groups of people from various provinces as well as the local Morobeans.

The latest ethnic clash is between settlers from Kabwum, Morobe and Okapa, Eastern Highlands this week, which has left two people dead, 17 admitted to hospital with injuries and many homes destroyed.

The killings and destruction of property took place at the Sialum compound two weeks after the rampage in the city streets by Morobe youth groups against street vendors from the Highlands.

How much longer will the industrial hub tolerate senseless killings, brutalities and destruction of property? 

Is payback killing a feature of Melanesian culture that should be condoned and allowed to prevail in this day and age?

The Criminal Code is quite explicit about such lawless behaviour and clearly stipulates that an act of revenge that leads to the death of an innocent person or persons is an offence that carries a severe penalty.

Despite the legal ramifications, ethnic and tribal groups continue to take the law into their own hands through payback killings and destruction of property. 

The recent ethnic clashes in Lae city are a glaring example of the age-old payback tendencies and acts of revenge that are allowed to persist in the country’s industrial hub. 

Former Lae metropolitan police commander Supt Iven Lakatani warned trouble-makers, especially in the settlements, to stop taking the law into their own hands.

The onus is on the new Lae police commander to work closely with the local communities to prevent further ethnic conflicts and violence.

It is interesting to note that the current police-people ratio in Lae is one policeman to 1500 civilians. No wonder, it’s a huge strain on police resources in our second city.

As the country’s industrial hub, Lae needs to improve its image as a centre for industry, business and commerce. 

It must also be a place in which residents and visitors can move about without fear of crime and violence.

Lae was previously invested by petty criminals and hoodlums who turned the city streets into a living hell for law-abiding residents and visitors.

The situation turned from bad to worse and forced the local Morobeans to intervene to help the police rid the streets of these undesirables, who had drifted into the city from mostly the Highlands provinces.

Nonetheless, ethnic violence has continued unabated and will go from bad to worse if there is no concerted effort by the relevant government authorities to stamp it out.

Currently, an eviction exercise is being carried out to remove illegal settlers. It is being spearheaded by the Morobe provincial government and is a first step in controlling the growth of settlements in the city.

The removal of illegal settlers may help to minimise ethnic violence in the city these unwanted people are kept out of the city boundaries. 

It remains to be seen whether this quick-fix solution will work in the long term as urban drift has a tendency to rebound.

The capital city of Port Moresby has had its fair share of ethnic violence and like Lae, will continue to face this problem until the payback mentality is eradicated from these irrational and lawless minds.

While the police should be commended for enforcing the law on payback killings and other acts of revenge, the onus should not be squarely placed on their shoulders. 

Other concerned groups or stakeholders should take a greater interest in this issue and play their part in changing the people’s attitudes and behaviour. 

In particular, Christian church organisations in this country seem to have turned a blind eye to these ethnic conflicts. 

While members of ethnic groups in Lae have been fighting and killing each other right under the noses of major churches, we hardly hear a word from these men and women of God.

It would be even better if the churches practice what they preach by doing more to change the people’s mindset on payback killings.