PNG university students
Last week's police shootings at the University of Papua New Guinea's Waigani campus in Port Moresby have complicated efforts by UPNG and other tertiary institutions to get students back to class after class boycotts for the past month or so.
Tensions have boiled over among students at universities in Papua New Guinea amid differences over whether to continue boycotting classes.
This week there was an outburst of fighting at the University of Technology in Lae, and over 50 students at the University of Goroka in Eastern highlands province, have been injured in skirmishes which spread from the campus to town.
This followed unrest at the University of PNG in Port Moresby last week which left dozens hospitalised when police opened fire on students as they tried to march to parliament to support a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.
Johnny Blades has been covering events and told Koroi Hawkins the unrest has ratcheted up the tension.
JOHNNY BLADES: Firstly it must be said that since early May when the boycotts began and there have been large gatherings of students to discuss their concerns about the Prime Minister and government that they have been pretty peaceful and the students have been really orderly in their conduct. But the police response last week at the UPNG has changed the dynamic. Now disputes have emerged amongst student bodies over whether to continue the boycott or return to class and we understand that it is because of these divisions that violence has broken out among at least two more student bodies this week. Yesterday was Goroka, the previous day it was Lae.
KOROI HAWKINS: And does this unrest give substance to claims by the government that discredit the students portraying them as lawless?
JB: It probably does add to that perception and therefore work into the hands of the O'Neill administration, unfortunately for the students. There are also claims that some students are being bribed to go back to class. There are also claims that some students are being pressured to continue the boycott against their will. So what we are seeing now is a focus on the divisiveness of the student actions and that could take some of the pressure off the PM. So there is still however a bulk of students who remain committed to their fight to staying away from classes to maintain the pressure on Peter O Neil.
KH: In the capital the University of Papua New Guinea has been urging students to return to class this week. But they also took out a court order effectively preventing the student body from organising more protest action. So what has the students response been?
JB: Well you know many students have been traumatised by the experience of being shot at and hunted around the campus and other parts of Waigani last week. It is unclear who gave the orders for the shooting and what they hope to achieve but the students are staying away largely from the campus. So effectively they are not returning to class but the student representative council has said that they will abide by the court ruling. They are not going to organise sort of a formal boycott it is just up to the students individually to decide on that. But of course they are fearful because after all the police remain on the Waigani campus and that is a source of trauma for them. And you know the universities are desperate for the students to return to class because the academic year is increasingly at stake and you know the vice chancellor up at UNITECH Albert Schram was saying that look he understand why students feel strongly about this and why they have boycotted classes but he wants them to return to class and he is saying that they have served their role already which is raising awareness out in the provinces about the grievances with government and and about the issues at stake and that they have served that role well already and now it is time to get back to university classes and let these issues be fleshed out in Port Moresby by the national leaders.
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