The national government has announced it will be delaying elections by six months, citing insecurity in the Southern Highlands as justification for this unprecedented move. In today's post, Mike W Lopele* - a local PNG LNG employee resident at Tamadiki Camp - reveals that it is not lawless landowners who people should be afraid of, but RPNGC Mobile Squads who are terrorising communities opposing PNG LNG, and executing PNG LNG workers sympathetic to the landowners' plight.
On the 3rd of April at approximately 11pm, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) Mobile Squad officers opened fire on PNG LNG workers at Tamadiki Camp using live ammunition and tear gas. One worker was killed instantly, while two others were injured.
|The deceased PNG LNG worker|
|This worker suffered injuries, when a bullet grazed his head.|
The incidents origins, however, lie in a wider dispute between the local landowning community and PNG LNG (operated by Esso Highlands Ltd, the PNG subsidiary of ExxonMobil. Landowners had petitioned the company, after their only source of water had been contaminated by upstream pipeline construction. The local community demanded an alternative water supply.
After their complaints fell on deaf ears, the landowners stopped construction work. Tensions were temporarily diffused following negotiations with one of the project's Community Liaison Officers. Subsequently, the landowners agreed to lift the blockade.
After having returned home to their village, RPNGC Mobile Squad officers questioned locals about the protest. Tensions soon escalated. Landowners, including women and children, were manhandled by the RPNGC, and two homes were burnt to the ground.
That evening, PNG LNG employees were discussing the Mobile Squads' actions with residents. Angered by the landowners' accounts, PNG LNG workers at Tamadiki Camp, made known their feelings to the Mobile Squad officers concerned.
A heated exchange of words took place between police and workers. Police then proceeded to point their guns at the workers and fired tear gas. Workers, in response, threw stones at the Mobile Squad officers.
The police then opened fire using live ammunition. One PNG LNG worker was critically wounded, and soon pronounced dead in the camp's clinic. Two others were wounded.
Having witnessed the murder of their colleague, workers began rioting. However, relatives of the deceased successfully calmed the situation, and no further violence took place.
A funeral was held for the killed worker. Now the body has been flown to Port Moresby, it will then be taken to Tari for burial. Construction work in the area has been shut down indefinitely.
|Workers from PNG, Colombia and Malaysia are united in sorrow for their friend and colleague.|
The Mobile Squads have defended their actions by claiming they were simply acting on the orders of company management. These claims have been denied by PNG LNG executives.
LNG WATCH POSTSCRIPT
Last week, on this blog, International State Crime Initiative scholar Kristian Lasslett warned Esso Highlands Ltd against supporting RPNGC Mobile Squads, owing to their chequered human rights record. He wrote:
According to the PNG LNG’s independent monitors, under a memorandum of agreement signed with the RPNGC, Esso Highlands can provide certain types of assistance to the RPNGC including “food, lodging, fuel, vehicles, travel”...While Esso Highlands has asked the RPNGC to abide by “voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights”, the fact remains the RPNGC’s recent record is a chequered one. Reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would suggest the Mobile Squads, in particular, have failed to heed the lessons of Bougainville...If Exxon (via Esso Highlands) extend patronage to the combined security forces as they ‘restore order’ in the Southern Highlands, they are at real risk of assuming partial responsibility for the latter’s conduct – which if the above examples are anything to go by, could be brutal in the extreme.
*This is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the author.