PNG soldiers deployed for Mendi, Southern Highlands Provincial government suspended

The destroyed Air Nuigini Dash 8 at Mendi Airport. Picture: RNZ/Supplied

PORT MORESBY, 18 JUNE 2018 (POST COURIER) — More than 100 soldiers from Taurama Barracks First Royal Pacific Islands Regiment arrived in Mendi on Saturday afternoon for the state of emergency operation which kicks off this morning.

A number of Highlands-based police mobile squad groups and soldiers are also in town strengthening the number of security personnel for the operation.

SOE controller Thomas Eluh is expected to arrive from Port Moresby today to the town where he left couple of months ago when he was removed as acting provincial administrator.

Provincial police commander Chief Supt Joseph Tondop, joint task force commander Lt-Col Emmanuel Todick and senior security officers for the emergency operations yesterday met and discussed their operational plans.

Unlike Thursday afternoon when there was chaos with a lot of destruction and torching, Mendi was unusually quiet the last three days. The heavy presence security personnel in itself instilled fear among the local population.

The only disturbance in the province came from Nipa District where suspended Governor William Powi hails from.

Heavily armed Powi supporters have called on Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to step down.

The call was made together with threats to shut down the LNG project in Hela following the suspension of the Southern Highlands Provincial Government on Friday by the National Government.

They have planned to cripple the LNG project by establishing armed roadblocks along the Nipa section of the Highlands Highway since Friday.

Social media has carried pictures of men dressed for battle with mounted machine guns and high powered rifles on trucks.

The section of the highway is now devoid of any vehicle and travelling public as tension is still high following the NEC decision to declare a state of emergency and install former senior cop Thomas Eluh as controller

Suspects behind the mayhem in Mendi on Thursday gave their word there would be no further destruction following the suspension of the provincial government on Friday.

“O’Neill has finally decided to listen to what we have been crying for a very long time. Thomas Eluh is the only high profile person that has come down low, listened and discovered the root of all the chaos in the province over the years and now that he is back as Controller, we’re satisfied and happy,” a source said on condition of anonymity.

“If only the Government listened to our pleas, we wouldn’t have gone to those extremes to get their attention. Now that they are listening, there won’t be any opposition against the government. If there is any adversity than it will only be from Powi’s Nipa people,” a reliable source said.

They, however, said Eluh still had to investigate and reveal how the province’s monies were used because there was nothing on the ground to show for the hundreds of millions of kina.

Meanwhile, the problem in Southern Highlands will not affect the 2018 APEC Summit in November as it is an isolated incident.

And an irate Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in an interview with Post Courier said Cabinet has suspended the Southern Highlands Provincial Government and installed Thomas Eluh as the Controller.

PM O’Neill said he has taken carriage of the matter in his province and singled out that Eluh will be responsible to him and Cabinet.

“This will not affect our APEC operations. This is an isolated incident. Every election in SHP Enga and Hela has had problems including violence and disruptions

“There are leaders who think violence will make them being install as leader of people. Very wrong. People will prevail. Today I suspend the provincial government

“Thomas Eluh is the Controller. He will be responsible to me and NEC

“I will take personal carriage of the matter in my province,” an irate PM O’Neill said.

O’Neill in an interview said a 6pm to 6am curfew has been imposed to curtail further trouble in Mendi Southern Highlands Province.

The leaders both political and local who are behind inciting the latest violence will all be arrested and charged with a 21-day period.

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