Where bloody violence rules

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2011, 12:00am


Papua New Guinea has experienced a massive crime wave with alarming rates of carjackings, armed robbery, murder and rape. Anyone with money lives behind barbed wire, in fenced enclaves in fear of raskol gangs.

But just over a week ago, one highland tribe decided it had had enough. Armed with just bush machetes and spears, the Agarabi tribe launched waves of attacks against the people they accused of terrorising their town. In just under four hours, they hacked up to 35 Kamano people of Kainantu town. No boy over the age of 15 was spared, in a massacre which was one of the most brutal in the country's recent history.

'It was like a nightmare. They slashed them all with bush knives,' said John Guajl, a Kainantu resident, who works in the nearby provincial town of Goroka. Five hundred men from the Agarabi launched the attack late last month at dawn, he says.

The Kamano gangs were armed with shotguns and even a machine gun. But police say the gangs ran out of ammunition, allowing the Agarabi tribe to continue their attack.

'People had such badly hacked bodies that the hospital staff called me in to put them back together again,' said Guajl, a nurse, who is not from either tribe. 'The kids were completely traumatised: they saw bits of arms, head and blood everywhere.' Fifteen bodies were recovered and stitched up, but at least another 20 bodies were thrown into the river, he says.

But Papuans from all walks of life are cheering the tribal attack, in one of the first cases of mass payback to the raskol - the word is creole, derived from 'rascal', and means gang members or criminals in general.

'As a son of Kainantu, I support the ... Agarabians, who said they wanted to clean the town,' wrote a reader to the Post-Courier, identifying only as 'K92 ant', who blames police for failing to stem gun violence in the highlands.

Guajl, too, blames the gangs from the Kamano 2 constituency. 'Because of them so many innocent lives were lost,' he said.

The Kamano settlement was harbouring wanted criminals, who regularly raped, murdered and robbed, locals allege. Highlands Police Commander Simon Kauba told local media that the Agarabi tribe had accused the Kamano settlers of being the cause of law and order problems in Kainantu.

Across the nation, reaction to the Agarabi attack has been positive. One university-educated Port Moreseby resident, who did not want to give his name, said: 'If it's true they [the Kamano community] were harbouring criminals, then it's fair enough.'

Albert Sam, a 24-year-old from the eastern islands province, said: 'They gave them notice to change their behaviour, but then decided to take action.' He grew up in Goroka, a highlands town about 30 kilometres from Kainantu.

Sam, like many others, blames the rise of the raskol on increasing mobility of Papuans, many of whom are leaving their traditional villages to live in shanty towns or settlements in the cities, towns or even highland villages like Kainantu. 'The raskol are usually migrants, so the landowners were tired and they went and attacked them,' he said.

Many people are hoping that the brutal attack was a warning to raskol, and new settlers across PNG.

Violence has engulfed the highland towns of Lae, and Mt Hagen, making it unsafe to be on the streets after dark, and almost every highlands household owns a gun.

In Port Morseby, Westerners live in gated communities, and are whisked from home to office in four-wheel drives. In the capital, populated by just 200,000 people, there are four carjackings a day. Even locals fear walking alone, or using public transport in certain parts of Port Moresby, for fear of being robbed.

Police were called into Kainantu once the attack began, but argue that they could not control it, according to local media.

Many Papuans argue that the solution to the raskol problem, apart from developing an effective police force, is to send the so-called settlers back to their villagers. 'Go to your homeland, work the land and live an honest life, because if you continue to stay in town and harass innocent people you might end up in the same way as our other wantok who just lost their lives,' warned reader K92 ant. Wantok means someone from the same village or nearby.

But for an increasing number of Papuans, returning to their homeland means returning to remote regions where there are no schools or health services, or not enough land to survive.

The country, one of the most fertile and ecologically diverse regions of the world, with a population of just 6.7 million, is suffering from a population explosion, according to the World Bank. About 65 per cent of the population is under 30, many of whom are unemployed and with few opportunities.

Port Moresby scores as the worst place to live among 130 world capitals, according to surveys by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

'There are not enough universities, and there are not enough technical colleges; it's a big problem and the government needs to be addressing it,' said John, a civil servant who did not want to give his real name.

At least 70 per cent live on US$2 or less a day, a dramatic rise, even since 2003, when just over half of the population lived below the poverty line.


PNG's annual gross national income per capita in US dollars, according to UN's latest figures