Papua New Guinea Deploys Security Force To Hela Province

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) government has deployed military troops and police in the Hela province after a recent spike in tribal violence. In recent months, there has been an increase in tribal violence, which has seen an increase in high powered guns and has left dozens dead. This security force will comprise of 150 police officers and soldiers, who have been told to seize and destroy illegal weapons. Furthermore, this deployment is also occurring to secure the PNG liquefied natural gas project, something that has been delayed by disgruntled landowners. Chief Secretary to the government, Isaac Lupari, said that this operation is aimed at stabilizing the province, and he has asked: “what do you do when people are running around with guns, causing havoc? [They] have no respect for human life.” He reiterated the government’s responsibility for the situation, stating that “services have been affected as a result, kids are not going to school, and mums are not getting medical attention.” On top of the security force, public servants from the law and justice sector will also be deployed to the region.

The tribal violence is in response to the Liquefied Natural Gas Project. Landowners in the region are still waiting for royalties, development levies, and dividends to be paid with some claiming that the government is not honouring the original project agreement. The government has responded to these claims, saying that these payments have been held up because some of the landowners obtained a court order, which is preventing the project from moving forward. For the landowners, the main concern surrounds the government’s ability and willingness to maintain the original agreement. During the negotiations, they warned the government that if they do not honour the agreement, they would resort to violence. For many of these landowners, the delay in receiving their compensation has increased resentment and anger in the region, thus leading to tribal violence.

This project has significant potential to benefit the economy and to promote development in the Hela province. However, the handling of this situation, up to this point, has overshadowed these potential benefits. There is not a clear discourse between the government and local landowners, as such, tensions within the region have increased. Without appropriate communication between these two parties, it is likely that these frustrations will continue to grow and may result in further misunderstandings and violence within the region. Central to this issue is that the landowners have not received the financial compensation that was promised to them last year. This combined with the lack of communication has meant that many landowners have assumed that the government will not honour this agreement.

It is clear that the PNG government needs to address the instability and tension in the Hela province. The deployment of the Security Force should be able to prevent further violence. However, it is also important that the government establishes a stronger communication link with the local landowners. Without this discourse, there will be further violence directed at the government and this has the potential to cause significant political insecurity. In order to prevent this, it is essential that the government honours its agreement and maintains a connection with the local landowners.

Lillian Wetherspoon