Papua New Guinea
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Traditional village demolished as illegal settlement

For over 70 years, the regional port of Oro Bay was dominated by Beama village that had grown to almost 2000 inhabitants over the years.

But on July 22 this year, everything changed suddenly when a gang hold-up of a school truck led to the shooting death of a policeman, followed by the burning down and bulldozing of the village.

The villagers have since been camping in the hillsides. The purported reason for the harsh treatment of the traditional landowners is that the village site was awarded to a company for commercial activity. The villagers were allegedly labelled illegal settlers in a Facebook posting but this could not be independently verified.

The people have taken exception to being called illegal settlers and are understandably very upset about the way they have been treated. They formed a restoration committee which engaged a lawyer and a legal suit has been taken out in the National Court for the six defendants named in the suit to justify their actions in court.

The committee of 12 travelled to Port Moresby for the mention last Wednesday, September 20, but the matter was adjourned to November 15, when the defendants did not show up. The committee’s public officer, Waina Orere said, court orders were duly served in Popondetta and Port Moresby. “Our intention is to get them to attend the mention on November 15, and to justify in court the punitive action they meted out on the people,” he said. The villagers are represented by Raurela Lawyers.

There were no fatalities in the punitive expedition by police even though during the raid at night, gunshots were randomly fired into the big village. Three elderly villagers, one male and two females were said to have died of starvation because the police severely curtailed the movement of villagers, even to the extent of stopping relief assistance reaching the people. “We could not find food to help the three people who died because we were not even allowed to go to Popondetta Town,” said Kennedy Orere, the Beama restoration committee chairman.

Named in the suit as defendants are: David Manning, Commissioner of Police; Special Services Director of Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, Julius Tasion; Provincial police commander Popondetta, Ewai Segi; Trevor Magei, Oro administrator; Oro Provincial Government; and The Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

The slain policemen came from Banderi village, five kilometres up the highway from Beama village which was nestled in the harbour. He was a sergeant and commander of Oro Bay police. On the day of his tragic death, he was resting in his house and gave his high-powered weapon to a regular policeman and a reservist to escort the Bareji High School truck. The truck was ambushed at Kosisi, less than five minutes outside Beama village. It was getting late in the afternoon.

When the truck was stopped by the gang, the policeman who was in possession of the high-powered weapon allegedly threw it to the attackers and fled. After robbing the travellers, the gang retreated into the nearby bushes with the loot.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered travellers drove back to the police station to report the incident. It was then that the deceased jumped on to the truck to go to the crime scene. On the way he stopped in front of Ward 7 councilor, Robert Gill Jaima’s house to report that his gun had been taken by rascals. Jaima was in haus krai and as night was approaching, he suggested that the matter be left to him to look into. But despite this advice, the deceased and his men continued on.

A short time later, three-gun shots rang out through the marshes. The account given by the villagers said, the truck stopped at the crime scene and as the policemen got off, the gun shots were fired suggesting that the gang and the loot were not far off the road.
The slain policeman was rushed by villagers to the nearby health centre and was being transferred to Popondetta General Hospital 42km away when he succumbed to his wounds.

At 10pm that night Popondetta police came down and set alight the main suspect’s house and those of his clan members. There was chaos because gun shots had been heard. Panic-stricken villagers left their homes and fled for safety. This was how they lost all their worldly possessions.

At 1am early Sunday morning, reinforcements arrived and more houses were set alight. The burning continued at 10am to finish off the remaining houses. Next day, Monday 24, a bulldozer arrived to flatten the village. Waina Orere said the provincial administrator who was armed, arrived with the PPC. When men from the village enquired, the duo said they were acting on orders of the Governor, Gary Juffa. The land had been allocated to an (-) company, they said.

Waina Orere said the official account of the incident was biased as well as misleading. Community leaders were not given the opportunity to look into the matter. Greg Oride, a village constable was beat up with gun butts and a baseball bat and is still nursing injuries to his legs. He is pictured with blue stockings sitting next to Councilor Jaima (in white shirt) who lost three front teeth in the encounter with police.

The Section 5 Notice was filed at 1.40pm on August 3, 2023, with the Office of the Solicitor-General, Department of Justice & Attorney-General. Also travelling as part of the delegates were Councilor Jaima, village chief, Emmanuel Orere, also a village court magistrate, Gilbert Bosiri, chief and evangelist, and Popondetta Open District Development Authority Appointed Member, Martin Orere.