Call for extra security in Hela before PNG elections

6:38 pm on 14 April 2017
The spectre of tribal fighting is a constant in Papua New Guinea's Hela province where villages are typically protected by trenches and tightly guarded gates.

The spectre of tribal fighting is a constant in Papua New Guinea's Hela province where villages are typically protected by trenches and tightly guarded gates. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

There's an urgent need for bolstered security in Papua New Guinea's Highlands province of Hela, according to its deputy governor.

Thomas Potobe's comment comes after a military and police callout to a province plagued by tribal conflict and a build-up of high-powered firearms.

The late December callout saw 300 police and military personnel deployed to the region which is central to the country's US$19-billion LNG gas project.

As the callout wound down last month, police and Hela authorities admitted its corresponding guns amnesty was only a partial success.

Mr Potobe warned that since the last elections in 2012 tribal tensions in the area have worsened.

"And this time I think there'll be fighting all over the place in the province," Mr Potobe said. "But last year we had big fights in the province and at the moment now we cannot manage it.

"It's very important, we need more security personnel on the ground."

LNG Project facility, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea

LNG Project facility, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Last month, PNG's police Commissioner Gary Baki floated the idea of recruiting hundreds of ex-servicemen to Hela to help address the lawlessness and fighting.

Mr Potobe said the plan was requested by the Hela provincial government, but it was clear that neither provincial or national government had the money to pay for this.

He has confirmed fears that lingering tension in and around the provincial capital could escalate again.

"Not only in Tari but also the Highlands around. We need more security on the ground, including Tari," he said.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki.

PNG Police Commissioner, Gary Baki. Photo: EMTV

"The view of the province, and the electorate, for me, it does not look good for the new elections."

The elections period officially starts later this month with two months of campaigning before a two-week polling period commencing in late June.

Last month, Mr Baki told RNZ International that in a change from previous polls, provincial police commands, rather than national headquarters would coordinate policing in each province during elections.

But he insisted there would be extra provision made for additional police presence in security hot-spots such as Hela.

Echoing this, the government's chief secretary Isaac Lupari said that securing the LNG project area remained a priority, suggesting an increased police deployment in coming weeks was possible.