Travellers, vendors say Simbus looting vehicles at roadblocks

National, Normal

The National, Thursday 5th January 2012

PEOPLE living at various parts of the Highlands Highway in Chimbu are setting up roadblocks and demanding money from the travelling public.Many, reports said, were also armed.
At the weekend, many vehicles were damaged and looted at these spots.
According to some of the travellers who had fallen victim at these roadblocks, the hooligans were unhappy landowners who had missed out on the recent Highlands Highway rehabilitation programme payments.
A number of people living along the highway between Waghi Bridge and Mangiro had been paid.
Many travellers lost their bags of betelnut which had cost them a fortune to bring in from the coastal towns.
Pora Wek, a betelnut trader from Dei in Western Highlands, was among those attacked at one of the roadblocks set up during the festive season.
Wek said he was travelling in a 25-seater Coaster bus from Bogia in Madang with other betelnut vendors on New Year’s Eve when they were attacked along the Dumun, Chuave and Masul stretch of the highway.
He said a group of men had felled a tree across the road and had lined up across the highway with their backs to the oncoming bus.
He said it was around 2.30am and the area was covered in fog and, as the bus slowed down, the group of men ran over to the bus and demanded money from the passengers.
He said the thugs also smashed the windscreen and looted the bus.
Wek, who was transporting 35 betelnut bags bought for K130 each, said he tried to fight off the thugs but was hit with an iron rod and sticks on his back, hands and head.
According to Wek, the thugs, when looting the bus, said in Tok Pisin: “Yupla kaikai fri na raun na mipla kisim taim, so bai mipla kisim blo yupla tu (you are enjoying money the easy way while we are suffering, so we will also get what is yours).”
Chimbu police commander John Kale confirmed that frustrated landowners, who had missed out on the payments, had set up “peaceful” roadblocks over the weekend but police had cleared them.
But he said these landowners had not stoned vehicles or fought with travellers.
Kale said those who had caused such damages were criminals who had taken advantage of the situation.
He said travelling at night was a risk passengers were taking and police could not always be available to protect travellers during late hours due to the shortage of manpower and other issues