1 Dec 2004

PNG police say highlands riots left businesses in fear

4:18 pm on 1 December 2004

Police in Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands province say some victims of recent inter-tribal rioting in the town of Goroka are still too frightened to return to their looted businesses.

One thousand people ransacked three main businesses owned by Western Highlanders in Goroka as tribal tensions flared along the Highlands Highway over a pair of stolen shoes.

The Eastern Highlands' Police chief, Philip Solala, says police were caught off-guard, and rioting "opportunists" ran amok for five hours last Tuesday.

"You know, these things come and go. You know, you never know what happens in this place here. But it was unfortunate that most of our people were in the Enga province conducting a by-election. But things like that... you know we are always prepared but this time we were taken by surprise."

Superintendent Solala says 14 people have appeared in court since facing looting and other charges.

He says calm has been restored but damage assessment has been hindered by the reluctance of some business owners to return to work.

There have been conflicting reports of whether deaths resulted from the clash in Goroka and the Western Highlands' centre of Mount Hagen.

Superintendent Solala says there were no deaths.