Tag Archives: military

Government allocates additional K2m for Hela LNG Operation

Police and soldiers in Papua New Guinea wait to board a flight to the Hela Province highlands. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Police and soldiers wait to board a flight to Hela Province  (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

NBC | One Papua New Guinea | 4 February 2017

The National Government has allocated another K2 million for the special law and order call-out operations in Hela province.

Governor, Francis Potape, revealed to NBC News that the K2 million adds to an initial K11 million allocation for the operation.

Mr. Potape says, the additional funding is to cater for local police who were overlooked in the initial funding.

“The callout operations is going good so far.

“We had 200 manpower, 150 are policemen and 40 or 50 soldiers.

“So bulk of the security forces are in Tari but we have a team in Koroba and also in Komo and Magarima.

“We had 3 gun surrenders. Some highpowered guns have been returned. Those are not the guns that we are expecting. We want more guns to come out. We wanted it to be faster but its bit slow.

“So the provincial government in consultation with the security forces we’ve set a deadline for each LLG’s, and all the guns and all the warlords from the LLG’s must surrender your weapons on that day. And it will start on the 13th.13th of February in Hulia and 14th for South Koroba and 15 so we have 13 LLG’s so everything starts on the 13th”.

Weapons surrendered during the call out will be destroyed on the 27th February while the first phase of the call out is expected to end on the 28th.

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PNG military warns of round-up if amnesty not heeded in LNG Province

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 1 February 2017

A senior military official in Papua New Guinea has urged warring tribes to surrender their firearms or face the law at the end of the month.

PNG’s The National reports Lt Col John Manuai was speaking during the surrender of weapons by a tribe in Hela province at the weekend.

An amnesty is in place in the province for illegal firearms after months of tribal fighting and a build-up of high-powered weapons.

The defence force Joint Task Force Commander said the military would round people up on 28 February if they were still holding onto weapons.

On Saturday, a leader from Kikita Number Two village, Buka Minape, surrendered his high-powered weapons in the presence of police and defence force personnel.

The National reported he then called on his rival John Tipa to bring forward his group’s weapons.

The two groups had been fighting for four years over a $US3 million payment for the Tari Airport.

A similar ceremony took place on Friday at North Koroba where the Pumayu tribe handed in their weapons.

The weapons included a factory-made pump action gun and two homemade guns.

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Illegal firearms at Exxon-Mobil LNG a concern

Police and soldiers in Papua New Guinea wait to board a flight to the Hela Province highlands. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Police and soldiers wait to board a flight to the Hela Province highlands. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Ramcy Wama | Post Courier | January 24, 2017

THE building up of illegal firearms at the Exxon-Mobil LNG project sites in Hela Province is alarming and leaders have raised concerns that it might affect the LNG project.

Hela Governor, Francis Potape when welcoming the police and PNGDF soldiers said there are alot of illegal firearms that are building up at the projects sites and security forces, leaders and the people have to work together to curb the building up of illegal weapons at the project sites and the whole of Hela Province.

He said the amount of illegal firearms at the projects sites is alarming and can affect the LNG project.

“The amount of firearms at the LNG project sites is alarming and has the potential to affect the PNG LNG Project in Hela,” Mr Potape said.

He said the ‘call-out’ in the province is very important and urged leaders not to politicise the whole operations but let the security forces carry out what they are assigned to do.

“We don’t want the call out to be involved with the politics of Hela leaders and politicians in the province. The outcome of the security operation must be police and soldiers driven and not politics,” Mr Potape said.

He said the people of Hela want the operation to be successful and the end result must be positive.

“We don’t want a third call out in the province. If this operation fails, I don’t think the third operation would work out for the province.” Mr Potape said.

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LNG security callout: a holiday for Hela’s warlords?

Hela Province Tribesmen Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Hela Province Tribesmen Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Johnny Blades | Radio New Zealand | 23 January 2017

Late last month, 300 police and military personnel were deployed to Hela, which is home to the lucrative LNG gas project, after months of tribal fighting and a build-up of high-powered firearms.

There are warnings that a major security forces callout to Papua New Guinea’s Hela province will not provide a long-term solution to ongoing tribal fighting.

Dozens of people are understood to have died last year in fighting and lawlessness which has been particularly bad around Hela’s capital Tari.

Since the callout, police have been on a province-wide drive to collect illegal firearms in Hela, with an amnesty is in place for tribes to surrender their guns by the end of February.

The proliferation of high-powered guns in the region is not a new concern, but remains a concern for the operations of the ExxonMobil-led LNG project.

Deputy governor of Hela Thomas Potabe said that since the callout, fighting had largely cooled off.

“Now the province is quiet and we have almost 300 police and soldiers on the ground, so I don’t think we will get big fighting like before we did,” he said.

However there’s scepticism from NGO worker James Komengi, who has worked with facilitating mediation between warring tribes since 2008.

He said merely taking some guns out of the equation would not help in the long term because tribal fighting was entrenched in Hela as a result of the lack of public services and development.

The Highlands’ warring tribes have a source of illicit firearms trade which they can tap, along the border with Indonesia – both via Indonesian military and West Papuan tribes.

In Mr Komengi’s view, warlords could easily seek more weapons if they felt exposed.

“We are giving a holiday to the warlords,” Mr Komengi said of the current callout.

“It looks like it’s only a callout for the arms, and they don’t have any programmes that will be left behind to help us transform the communities. And that’s something I think the politicians will seriously have to get into to transform the province. Otherwise it’s more like a temporary break for the warlords.”

Leadership

For others, addressing the lawlessness and fighting is a question of leadership.

A Hela community leader, George Tagobe, said local police had the resources to deal with fighting before a callout was needed, but that direction was lacking.

“Our leaders, when they are in there, when they show their presence in the area where the fighting is, people respect. When there’s no leaders, people run around like animals,” was Mr Tagobe’s summary.

“Now the local police, they can be able to perform, but they’re waiting for orders to come. They can’t just go in and conduct raids and go into the fighting zone without any orders from the hierarchy,” he said.

Police operations commander, Assistant Commissioner David Manning, said Hela people had lost confidence in the region’s governance, and that needed to be restored in order to end lawlessness.

Tribal divisions are entrenched in Hela Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Tribal divisions are entrenched in Hela Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

“Over the years the thinking of the people of Hela has been that the national government has abandoned them, has really not given much focus on addressing some of the socio-economic challenges that the people face up here,” he said.

“As such, there was a building resentment towards the government [at] the national, provincial and district level.”

Part of the resentment that exists in Hela stems from the perception among of communities in the LNG Project area that promised benefits from this massive commercial venture have not materialised.

While their grievances have tended to be with government rather than developer, landowners mounted various protests last year, demanding outstanding project payments, and greater share of equity in the project.

Both police and local authorities deny that the tribal fighting is directly related to the LNG project, yet the project’s footprint, and expectations surrounding it, remain important and potentially epxlosive in Hela.

Mr Manning said that ending the fighting was a huge task that wouldn’t be completed quickly.

“The success of this operation hangs all over the shoulders of the people of Hela and how we – the operations – can engage in effective and productive partnerships with them in resolving the future of the province.”

Hela provincial government officials said the security forces callout had sparked constructive peace talks between warring tribes, and they were hopeful of a lasting settlement.

As PNG’s five-yearly general elections are due in mid-2017, it’s likely the government will maintain a boosted security forces presence in Hela.

With unrest around polling having hampered previous elections in parts of the Highlands, prime minister Peter O’Neill has indicated that security around the upcoming elections will be a priority.

However, people in Hela are concerned that settlement of tribal fighting may collapse after the polls.

A school burnt out as a result of tribal conflict in Papua New Guinea's Hela province. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A school burnt out as a result of tribal conflict in Papua New Guinea’s Hela province. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Dialogue and understanding

James Komengi has been involved with the Ambassadors for Peace programme which was instrumental in the signing of a peace agreement between 32 warring communities in Hela region in 2008.

He said that since then none of the communities had resorted to violence.

Mr Komengi said the programmes which civil society facilitated have brought warring tribes together at workshops to develop the skills to dialogue and understand each other as well as the causes of conflict.

These workshops and dialogues were generally mediated by trained local facilitators like him.

He said that peace agreements between previously warring communities or tribes were based on their own agreements, publicly declared, and monitored by facilitators.

These were the types of programmes he said were needed to cope with Hela’s current wave of conflicts.

Drought a factor

Adding to the sense of despair and frustration among people in Hela, and other parts of the Highlands, is the hobbled government response to the recent drought.

Farmers and crop gardeners in many parts are still recovering from devastation caused by the El Nino-induced drought from 2015 to 2016.

A dry creek bed during the drought. Photo: Supplied

A dry creek bed during the drought. Photo: Supplied

Mr Komengi said that in response to the drought there was little effective help from provincial or central government.

According to him, government relief supplies or funds were often misused or misdirected.

Now, the National Agriculture Research Institute is partnering with civil society in the Highlands to help build resilience to future droughts.

Mr Komengi said that NARI has chosen the United Church to work with in Hela because it led the drought impact assessment and response programmes.

The notion of not waiting around for government to help, but instead of getting on with a community-driven response, has gained currency in PNG’s Highlands.

But taking matters into one’s own hands, particularly where justice is concerned, is also at the heart of the tribal fighting problem.

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Advocacy group forewarned of LNG violence in Hela

jubileeaustralia_pipedreamsreport_april2013_web

In December 2012, the anti-poverty advocacy group, Jubilee Australia published a report, PIPE DREAMS: The PNG LNG Project and the Future Hopes of a Nation.

The report examined in detail the potential costs and benefits of the Exxon-Mobil LNG project and concluded “it is very likely the Project will exacerbate poverty, increase corruption and lead to more violence in the country.”

In one part of the report, the authors, Luke Fletcher and Adele Webb, canvased the serious possibility the LNG project would likely fuel clan violence or, even more seriously, conflict between local people in the Hela Province and security forces representing the Government in defending the project.

With these scenario’s now being played out on the ground and army and police units being deployed to Hela Province it is poignant to revisit the report and two pages in particular…

RISK OF SERIOUS CONFLICT

It will be recalled from chapter 2 that violence has played a role in the life of the Huli people. Along with compensation and discussion, violence has been one of the natural and unquestioned means of dispute resolution for the Huli for generations. Problems arise, it might be argued, only when an outside world, hungry for the underground resources of the region, distorts this system of social relations, which, if not exactly ‘harmonious’, was nevertheless part of a world ‘in harmony’. This is the context in which discussions of violence related to PNG LNG should be framed.

When analysing the risks of conflict in the Project areas, it is important to highlight two particular scenarios. The first scenario is intra- or inter-clan violence or conflict in the Southern Highlands among Huli groups, or between Huli and other groups who have migrated to the Project looking for economic opportunities. The second scenario is more serious: that of a larger-scale conflict between Landowners/ locals in the Hela Province and security forces representing the Government and/or the Project.

We now consider these two scenarios in turn.

Project-related conflict between/among clans

The scenario of intra- or inter-clan conflict in the Project area is most likely to unfold from disputes over land, or to arise out of social tensions related to migration into the area. To date, the land ownership disputes that have occurred have been concentrated in PDL 152 where the Liquefication Plant is to be concentrated, rather than up in the Southern Highlands. In January 2010, five people were killed in a conflict near the plant site between Boera and Porebada villages as a result of land-ownership disputes related to Project benefits. In the same month, 270 properties were destroyed, and 11 people were killed by villagers from the neighbouring Erave district, in violence related to the Project. Currently, the large number of economic opportunities available because of the PNG LNG construction boom seem to be keeping a lid on any potential inter-group conflict in the new Hela Province.

Although some compensation cash handouts have already been made, these are relatively small compared with the large amounts of revenue that will enter into the community once the gas starts to flow. In the long-term, land-related conflicts will be minimised if the revenues are collected fully, managed well, and distributed as evenly and fairly as possible. The main concern involves the potentially unresolved issues resulting from the rushed signing of the Benefit Sharing Agreements (BSAs) before the Final Investment Deadline at the end of 2009. These issues could reemerge if there are less positive benefits to share around than have been promised and expected.

According to recent research conducted in the Project area, land ownership disagreements still persist. In particular, 63 per cent of the respondents to one survey felt that Landowner agreements were a problem or a serious problem. Furthermore, many respondents in the Otago University Study identified disputes over landownership as the Project’s most serious potential flashpoint. Such findings are a cause of concern given the large problems that beset almost all the institutions associated with management and distribution of Landowner revenues.

A secondary concern is the relationship between groups that are indigenous to the Hela region and those who have migrated there looking for work and other opportunities. Widespread migration into the region has already occurred; the risk is that this migration might lead to tensions and an increase in violence. In the Porgera gold mine in neighbouring Enga Province, the spike in violent crime has been associated with the huge amount of migration into the area.

Operational Disruption and Militarisation

While this first scenario should not be taken lightly, operational disruption and militarisation of the entire area is the much more dangerous possibility. According to the Otago University Study, close to 30 per cent of respondents felt that conflict between Landowners and the Companies was a possibility—a figure more than double the number of those worried about clans/ Landowners fighting each other.

Small-scale incidents of conflict that have occurred to date include: various reprisals against the Companies and those representing them over the issue of employment and working conditions; workers strikes at the LNG Plant, reflecting dissatisfaction with working conditions and pay, attacks by locals against expatriate workers in the Hela Province; foreign workers being attacked at Komo (the site of the airfield); and, of course, the hostage-taking and occupation of Project sites that occurred in connection with anger over the distribution of the business development payments (see Section 5.2). Fortunately, though troubling, these episodes have been temporary.

What do we currently know about the security arrangements for the Project? First, EHL has designed the Project infrastructure, especially the pipeline, to be as tamper-proof as possible, so as to minimise the likelihood of disruption of the gas flow due to sabotage. It is worth noting that the fortification of Project infrastructure, while intended to minimise Project disruption, could simply push Project disruption techniques to focus, not on the pipeline, but on human and labour resources.

Secondly, there is a confidential Memorandum of Understanding between EHL and the PNG Government that outlines the various roles that each party is expected to play regarding security. In a reply to a letter from Jubilee Australia, ExxonMobil stated that EHL is committed to doing business “in a way that protects the security of its personnel, facilities, and operations and respects human rights”, but that it is the PNG State that has primary responsibility for “maintaining law and order, including addressing crime and general civil unrest, in the PNG LNG Project areas”. The company also stated:

Under the terms of the memorandum, where the government’s capacities or resources are limited, we may provide prescribed support for defensive security purposes only to protect our personnel, facilities and operations – for example, for transportation and accommodation of police in remote Project locations.

The Government’s security apparatus currently in place for the Project contains the following components:

  • the local police of Hela Province, who are essentially doing regular community policing;
  • three mobile squads of the Royal PNG Constabulary: the same squads who have been operating in Porgera, which are assisting with policing of the Project sites;
  • international firms employed by the Project to assist with security. (Two such firms thought to be linked with the Project are: 1) A subsidiary of G4S, the world’s largest private security firm; and 2) Guard Dog Security.)

In early April 2012, the Government announced plans to send squads of the PNG Defence Force to Enga and Southern Highlands Province to quell unrest and violence at the Porgera mine and the PNG LNG construction areas. It is not known at this stage how many soldiers were to be deployed or for how long, although it is suggested that part of the reason for the deployment in the Tari area was that potential unrest could have disrupted the provincial elections in June.

The use of foreign-owned private security firms has been heavily criticised by Former PNG Defence Force Commander and veteran of the Bougainville conflict, Major General Jerry Singarok. Singarok argues that the use of these private security forces pose two separate threats: indirectly, they weaken the strength and the morale of the indigenous defence forces by drawing quality personnel from their ranks; and, more directly, their presence in the Project site is a threat because private security contractors are inherently perceived as more inflammatory by locals, and more prone to violence than domestic forces.91 Some counter Singarok’s claims by suggesting that the private security firms are better trained and more disciplined than PNG forces, but his public position on the issue confirms that there is indeed a pervasive uneasiness amongst the domestic security forces about the use of contractors, which is in itself troubling.

Ultimately, the most important factor regarding the security forces is perhaps not their make-up, but in what manner and under what circumstances they may be deployed in the case of Project disruption. On this note, there is cause for some pessimism, given the Government and the Companies are both dependent on meeting a strict timetable for the deliveries of gas. As was explained in chapter 2, the PNG Government has taken on significant financial liabilities in order to participate in the Project. Although it has to repay many of these before the gas flows, the Government will nevertheless need to apportion some of the Project’s early gas revenues to debt retirement. Moreover, it will be relying on the gas revenues to service other spending obligations in its budget. The Companies, for their part, will face significant financial penalties in the case of disruption of deliveries of the gas to the buyers. In both cases, there are significant financial incentives to respond harshly to any sort of sabotage or Project disruption. It seems fair to assume that if there is serious Project disruption, militarisation of the region is a genuine possibility.

The risk of serious conflict attending the Project will, in the end, turn on the experiences and expectations of the Project-affected communities. When the opportunities from the construction phase dry up, the people of Hela Province and of PDL 152 will face the question of whether their expectations of the Project have been delivered. Will the revenues flowing to the communities transform them into better places? This of course depends on how the revenue management structures we have discussed earlier in the Chapter perform. There is a great deal of uncertainly about this. What we do know is that the communities and groups will make their own assessment of whether the Project has been beneficial overall.

What is less certain is the question of whether communities, and in particular, community leaders, will take disruptive action if they grow unhappy with the Project. Many have already gone on record making public threats against the Project and its workers if they do not get what they want. According to Hela Community Care’s John Tamita:

It may be a disaster coming up. They’ve chopped the neck off a couple of Asians already, Asians who worked on the new airfield in Komo. And most likely, its (sic) also going to be taking place here [Tari] too. A lot of our residences demolished; no payment; we are struggling now; our lives become useless, they didn’t consider us.

A recent news item picked up a similar sentiment expressed by a source close to Southern Highlands landowners:

[… ] I fear what is coming unless something changes soon […] We are not being heard and feel we have no choice. We know we will be out- gunned, and Exxon, being an American company, may receive US government support, but this is about dignity and our rights.

Worryingly, the same informant claimed that weapons are being smuggled into the region in preparation
for violent conflict if expectations are not met.
 The possibility of a weapons’ build-up in the region was raised two years ago in Jubilee Australia’s previous report on this subject.

The ingredients for Project-related conflict unfolding in Hela Province are all present: high community expectations, the apparent preparedness of some groups to use violence if necessary, a highly-charged and complex security situation, a government and a company that will likely respond harshly to any sabotage or other acts of violence or disruption. The vital ingredient, however, will be the perception of actors within the Project area of whether the promises of the Project were received. If conflict does break out, the most positive thing that can be said is that it is unlikely to be as long-term or as horrific as on Bougainville.

Read the full report – Jubilee Australia Pipe Dreams Report [3.7 MB pdf file]

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PNG Government deploys troops, police to secure gas project

PHOTO: Police and soldiers in Papua New Guinea wait to board a flight to the Hela Province highlands. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Police and soldiers in Papua New Guinea wait to board a flight to the Hela Province highlands. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

Eric Tlozek | ABC News | 9 January 2017

The Papua New Guinea Government has deployed troops and police to stop gun violence near the country’s biggest resources project.

About 150 police and soldiers are being deployed in Hela Province in the PNG highlands in response to a spike in tribal violence that has left dozens of people dead in recent months.

The security forces have been told to seize and destroy illegal weapons, after police raised concerns about a build-up of high-powered guns.

The callout is also to secure the PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, which has been disrupted recently by incursions and blockades from disgruntled landowners.

The chief secretary to the Government Isaac Lupari said the security operation was aimed at stabilising the province.

“We’ve got a law and order problem up in Hela,” he said.

“What do you do when people are running around with guns, causing havoc? [They] have no respect for human life.

“Services have been affected as a result, kids are not going to school, mums are not getting medical attention.

“The Government has been responsible and decided we’d send in a special operation to restore law and order.”

The security operation is aimed at stabilising the province, the Government says. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

The security operation is aimed at stabilising the province, the Government says. (ABC News: Eric Tlozek)

The full deployment will involve about 300 people, and will include public servants from the law and justice sector.

It coincides with an amnesty on illegal firearms.

Mr Lupari said securing the PNG LNG project was also a critical aim of the deployment.

“We’ve got a very important project that is located there,” he said.

“It supports the economy, employs thousands of Papua New Guineans, so we’ve got to restore law and order.”

Landowners of the project area are still waiting for royalties, development levies and dividends to be paid and some claim the Government is not honouring the original project agreement.

But the Government says the payments have been held up because some landowners obtained a court order preventing further identification of beneficiaries.

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Shedding PNG blood for corporate interest – didn’t we learn?

Bougainville ... "A crisis that could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing the destruction of a people and their future had the Papua New Guinea government exercised restraint. Image: Gary Juffa/File

Bougainville … “A crisis that could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing the destruction of a people and their future had the Papua New Guinea government exercised restraint”. Image: Gary Juffa/File

Gary Juffa | December 22, 2016

The deployment of military troops to Hela province is reminiscent of tragic events that unfolded about 28 years ago that sparked off a crisis and left more then 20,000 Papua New Guineans dead.

When Bougainvilleans decried the unfair treatment of landowners, pollution and lack of the government’s care for fairness and future, the government reacted by sending Mobile Force troops. Their brutal effort at reprisal triggered off one of the bloodiest moments in Papua New Guinea’s short history as an independent nation.

It is to be forever known as the Bougainville Crisis.

A crisis that could have been avoided, saving many lives and preventing the destruction of a people and their future had the government exercised restraint.

Instead, the Bougainville Crisis saw our blood shed for corporate interest in a bloody 10-year struggle.

We are still rebuilding, still recovering.

Will things ever return to normal? Who knows. We can only hope.

Fundamental lesson

The fundamental lesson from that terrible period for Papua New Guinea should be that such confrontations should be avoided as much as possible, and peaceful options be exhausted first and that human consideration supersede corporate interest.

Diplomacy and tact and traditional means of conflict resolution must be exhausted before any such decision is even considered.

Even then there are a variety of possible meditation platforms such as having third party negotiators and international organisations be considered to broker a peaceful way forward.

Some 300 shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have left our shores with not a single toea returning to landowners. Of course there is bitterness and a sense of anxiety and much concern as to whether they will see any benefit at all.

What are the possible outcomes of the troop deployment?

Do the benefits justify the effort?

All it will take is one mistake that may result in injury or death and we will have another crisis on our hands.

And Hela has the grave potential to be far worse then Bougainville…no doubt foreign intervention would be on the cards.

I hope common sense prevails and we find peaceful resolutions and not the kind of use of force that may lead to regrettable events in the future.

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