Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Riot aftermath

Source: Post Courier, November 15, 2011 

NEARLY thirty thousand children from 30 schools - starting from elementary, primary, high and secondary schools right up to colleges and tertiary institutions in and around Lae City are sitting at home wondering when they will be allowed to return to classes. And church leaders have urged all churches to pray for peace and reconciliation, forgiveness and unity amongst all groups in the city. The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea Bishop Giegere Wenge this week led churches to prayer asking God for peace, justice, righteousness, reconciliation and forgiveness amongst people of all ethnic origins in Lae and the Morobe Province. The violence has forced all classes to be suspended for an indefinite period as a direct result. Health services at the Angau Memorial Hospital have also been drastically reduced to serious emergency cases only until the situation improves. For schools the direction issued to suspend classes was made by the Morobe Provincial Education Board (PEB) and provincial administration. Many children use public transport to travel to and from school and the unrest had led to the buses not operating forcing even workers to walk long distances to work. Many teachers and students live in settlement areas which pose a direct risk to their safety. Education authorities in Morobe are monitoring the situation so that if it does improve then schools might be asked to reopen early. Health staff as well as many government and private sector workers have also been affected by the violent situation with many forced to stay home. Angau hospital management had decided to restrict services only to serious emergency cases only. All other services including specialized clinics provided by doctors for their patients have been suspended until normal life returns. Many hospital staff such as nurses live in the areas worst affected by the violence and could not be picked up to get to work. For those reporting for work they have to work two 12-hourly shifts and management have appealed to them to do their best to help the patients until the situation returns to normal. The violence in Lae also forced all shops to close down and send staff home in fear of their lives. Shops slowly re-opened over the course of this week but with caution. People stood in long queues to get into shops and buy essential food items for their families many standing in the lines for hours to get into through the doors. Businesses have also re-opened but many with skeleton staff as most of the employees live in settlement area and places far away from the city. For them getting to work means driving through the risky areas. The Morobe provincial executive council is now dealing with the petition from Morobe youth which gave rise to the current
situation in the city. Street selling is now banned. It is a major point in the petition presented to governor Luther Wenge on the state of lawlessness in Lae.
In the petition the youths blamed the government for the lack of commitment in addressing the heightening and ongoing law and order problems in the city.
They pledged their willingness to work with the provincial government to fight crime in Lae. The youth petition also demanded the removal all illegal settlements on state and customary land. The provincial executive council has ordered that squatter settlements illegally set up on State-owned land will be removed. The youth have also demanded that all liquor outlets be closed down for an indefinite period because lawlessness that has been happening in the city was because of alcohol. Governor Wenge told the youths the government had already heard their cry and would act immediately into addressing all the issues stated in their petition. The violence that erupted in Lae was in the making for a long time. Frustration built up over that time on what the youth and the general public saw as the government and its agencies’ failure to address the law and order problem in the city. The result was that the industrial hub of Papua New Guinea came to a standstill for four days when these frustrated youths stormed the streets in protest over the continuous criminal activities at the main bus stops areas. Everyone was affected badly by the ensuing fear that gripped the city. The main shopping centers and commercial banks at Top Town, Eriku and Market closed their doors in fear of vandalism. Many families mainly from the Highlands region are now living in makeshift camps as a result of the burning down of their homes in the settlement areas. Lae is now quiet but remains tense. Provincial, local and community leaders with support from police have managed to restore normalcy to much of the city. The committee headed by former premier Joshua Hagai to enquire into the unrest is in the process of commencing its investigations.

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