Armed protesters block access, burn equipment at PNG’s biggest resources project
20 June, 2018, 3:00 pm
PORT MORESBY, 20 JUNE 2018 (ABC)—Police in the Papua New Guinea Highlands fear they are outnumbered and outgunned by protesters who are blocking access to the country’s biggest resources project.
The police commander in Hela Province, Martin Lakari, said armed men had blocked the road leading to the project and damaged earthmoving equipment.
“It’s very dangerous for any vehicles to pass through.”
Project operator ExxonMobil said only that it had received reports of damage to equipment.
“We are investigating reports of vandalism relating to the Angore pipeline construction project,” the company said in a statement.
“Host government security forces are in the area and also investigating. Our staff are all safe.
“Production at the Hides Gas Conditioning Plant is continuing normally.”
Police commander Lakari said the protest was not linked to unrest in the neighbouring Southern Highlands province, in which a passenger plane and government buildings burned down, in a protest related to last year’s elections.
“This issue here is unlike what had happened in Southern Highlands, this is a landowner issue,” he said.
Lakari said landowners were demanding 35 million kina (US$10.7 million) in payments for “project security” and appealed for help in ending the protest.
“I can’t resolve it, I want … the relevant stakeholders, authorities to go back to the roundtable, discuss and have the problem fixed.”
Both Hela and Southern Highlands provinces were affected by a magnitude-7.5 earthquake in February, which forced the LNG project to suspend production for several weeks.
Rioters in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi stole earthquake relief supplies at the height of the unrest.
The PNG Government has sent more police and soldiers to the Southern Highlands, declared a state of emergency for the province and dissolved the provincial government.
That sparked an armed protest and the kidnapping of a police unit in another part of the province.
PNG is preparing to host world leaders in November at the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The country’s APEC Minister, Justin Tkatchenko, told PNG’s The National newspaper the unrest in the Highlands would not affect PNG’s hosting of the summit.