23 Mar 2009

Tribal land dispute near PNG gold mine remains tense after deadly violence

9:40 pm on 23 March 2009

The provincial administration and police in Papua new Guinea's Morobe province have been holding crisis meetings with local communities in Wau township after weekend violence left three dead.

The newspaper, The National, reports that fighting erupted when a land dispute over ownership of the McAdam National Park between Wau and Bulolo came to a head as Watut tribesmen gathered in Wau in their hundreds and staged an early morning attack on the villages of Biangai tribe.

The violence left three people dead, several injured, houses and property destroyed, and forced the temporary shutdown of the Hidden Valley gold mine and the evacuation of employees.

A Watut man was allegedly killed recently by Biangais over a gold-bearing piece of land on the national park, which is said to have sparked the tension.

Police managed to halt most of the violence on Saturday and have since been bolstered by reinforcements from Lae to contain the situation at Wandumi Bridge.

Shops in the area are closed, and people are staying in their homes while the situation remains tense.

Police say some Watuts took advantage of the situation to converge on the Hidden Valley gold mine where they made demands of the mine operators.

However a spokesman for the Morobe Mining Joint Venture claims its security officers countered the advance and have secured the entrance to the mine so that only essential traffic comes inside the gate.

Operations have been suspended for the time being.