ExxonMobil employee held hostage in PNG’s Hela province

Extractive industries bring upheavals to Papua New Guinea communities: earth-moving underway for the ExxonMobil-led Liquefied Natural Gas project in Hela Province. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Radio New Zealand | June 5, 2017

A scientist working for ExxonMobil in Papua New Guinea was held hostage last week by armed tribesmen in Hela Province who wanted police to release a local warlord.

The men, who were carrying home-made firearms, abducted the woman from the vicinity of the Komo airfield on Friday as they were on their way to the Tari police station to demand the release of their kinsman.

The police commander for Hela province Michael Welly said the woman was held for two hours at the most before being released.

“The hostage takers went into the camp, got this female employee and held her hostage and demanded that police release the suspect so my men had to give in to their demand and release the suspect who initially had the home-made firearm on him,” said Superintendent Welly.

“We know those suspects involved in the hostage situation. We know their identity. We will have them arrested soon.”

Superintendent Welly confirmed that the woman, an employee of Exxon Mobil, is an environmental scientist with the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project and that she was from coastal PNG.

LNG Project facility, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Exxon Mobil praised the police handling of the incident.

“Exxon Mobil is taking very seriously the abduction of one member of its staff in the vicinity of Komo airfield on Friday,” said an ExxonMobil spokesperson.

“We are relieved to say that the incident was resolved quickly and that all our staff are safe.”

The company said the issue was not directly related to PNG LNG activities.

“We continue to encourage constructive dialogue as the means to resolving tensions.

“Exxon Mobil PNG is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with landowners, the government and the wider community,” said the company spokesperson.

PNG security forces parade at the launch of the election security operation in Mt Hagen. Friday 26 May 2017. Photo: PNG EMTV online

Michael Welly said it was an isolated incident and not related to the upcoming national elections, which have prompted a beefing up of security in the province in recent months.

He said there were strategies in place to deal with aniticipated security issues in Hela during and after polling which starts on 24 June and is scheduled to run over two weeks.

“I am hoping that the response unit that is going to be deployed into Hela province is done soon enough so that I can strategically locate them in the hot spot areas that I think we need to maintain for the smooth running of the elections,” said Michael Welly.

Mr Welly said the response unit had been gearing up in Mt Hagen over the weekend in preparation for deployment from Tari.

He said he was hoping to get two police mobile squads and two platoons of defence force personnel for the election period.

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Filed under Human rights, Papua New Guinea

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