PNG PM, MPs and ministers head to Mendi

PORT MORESBY, 20 JUNE 2018 (POST COURIER) —- Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill and Members of Parliament, including ministers, will travel to Mendi today to reinforce the good work of the members of the emergency team, after local leaders involved in the election petition travelled to Mendi Tuesday.

Following overnight media comments by the Southern Highlands Provincial Police Commander (PPC), the Prime Minister has expressed disappointment that the PPC has seen fit to make statements that are outside of his responsibility.

The Prime Minister has further urged police on the ground to carry out their duties in maintaining the rule of law and investigating offences without interference from politics.

“I am surprised that the PPC appears out of touch as reports are that he was not present in Mendi when the burning of state assets took place,” the Prime Minister said.

“His job now is to reinforce the rule of law, which means investigating and apprehending those involved in criminal acts and preventing further agitation between opposing groups.”

The Prime Minister said elected leaders and government officials have to carry out their respective roles diligently and not seek to influence the other.

“The role of elected leaders is to work with their supporters, to manage their expectations and to calm emotions so that tensions cannot re-emerge.

“Southern Highlands Members of Parliament, who are at the centre of election disputes, are doing exactly that. They have met with local leaders in Port Moresby and this has resulted in the peace that is in place in Mendi.

“Local leaders travelled to Mendi today (Tuesday) to continue maintaining peace and order in the town. Tomorrow (today), I will travel to Mendi with the Members of Parliament, including Ministers, to reinforce the positive work already being undertaken by members of the emergency team. These efforts have brought about order in Mendi town and these efforts are continuing.”

The Prime Minister has again reminded leaders to not be involved as police investigations are currently underway.

“Let the police get on with their work independent of political interference.

“As I stated earlier, this includes talk of compensation and other pressures that undermine due legal process.”.

Meanwhile, Police have 15 names to kickstart the investigations into the Mendi chaos.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Operations, David Manning told Post-Courier that at least 15 suspects in last Thursday’s mob rampage have already been identified to police and will be the subject of further investigation. Manning said that all suspects would be investigated indiscriminately and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“In the course of our investigation, we will be looking at all angles, because we need to ensure that anyone who had even the remotest involvement in the incident is investigated.

“If the investigation reveals that it is in the best interests of the people that they need to be brought to court to account for their actions, then so be it. There is no discrimination between the person who lit the match and the person who had directed him to do so over the phone,” said Manning.

ACP Manning said the investigation is only one part of the police State Of Emergency (SOE) operations, which will be carried out in four different phases over the next three months.

He said that scheduled operations will be centred on returning peace and the rule of law to Mendi, in the wake of last week’s outbreak of violence.

However, he said that he was also aware that the incident could spark extremist behaviour from other “Issue Motivated Groups (IMGs)” in the area, with the example of the recent kidnapping of police officers by landowners in the Nipa-Kutubu area.

Acting Police Commissioner Jim Andrews during a press conference condemned the violence, but also highlighted the responsibility of community leaders in cooperating with the police to restore peace.

“I am appealing to the people of Southern Highlands and especially the leadership at the family, clan, tribal, village, electoral and provincial levels to cooperate with police and play their part in the restoration of peace and normalcy into the Southern Highlands Province, and more importantly in arresting those responsible for the destruction and looting,” he said.

About 70 police officers have been deployed in the state of emergency area and will be conducting joint operations with the PNG Defence Force in undertaking various tasks from threat neutralisation and public awareness programmes leading up to the eventual arrest and prosecution of those involved in last Thursday’s mob violence.