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11 gunned down in tribal feud over huge PNG gas project

Pacific Scoop:
By Mohammad Bashir in Port Moresby

Eleven people have been gunned down in an early morning clash between Papua New Guinean tribes fighting over a profit-sharing stake in a $15 billion liquefied natural gas project in the Southern Highlands.

The deaths and destruction of more than 270 houses followed a raid on Pawale village in the ExxonMobil project area.

The PNG government and developers have been given by Pawale clans 48 hours to step in and restore order.

In a gang-style attack, four groups of young men from the neighbouring Imawe Bogasi clan armed with high powered guns reportedly staged the raid, killing 11 young men and injuring many villagers.

Hundreds of women and children who fled are unaccounted for.

Southern Highlands provincial police commander, Superintendent Jimmy Onopia confirmed the fighting but he could not provide details of the deaths and destruction to properties.

Pawale village in Simberigi, Erave district, in the Southern Highlands was a home to the Toroko, Haukerake and Ase Tipupurupeke clans.

‘Payback’ attack
The raid was believed to be a traditional “payback” – retaliation for the killing of an Imawe Bogasi clansman before the Licensed Based Benefit Sharing Agreement (LBBSA) forum in December.

A spokesman for the Tipurupeke clan, Steven Paglipari, confirmed the killings, saying the situation on the ground was tense.

Pawale villagers, who were the principle landowners, did not take part in the licensing share forum because of threats and intimidation.

Pawale council president Max Apua said the Bogasis refused K5000 and 14 pigs given two weeks ago as “bel kol” at a mediation ceremony chaired by Erave’s first judge Justice Nemo Yalo.

Justice Yalo appealed to the warring clans to put their differences aside.

Moloko Tiburua Peke, Industry Leaders Group (ILG) chairman Apiko Pelipe and Apua called on the government and the developers to step in immediately and address the crisis.

Landowner threat
Speaking on behalf of the six clans of Pawale, Apua said they would not hesitate to take the law into their own hands if the government and the oil and LNG developers failed.

The planned LNG project will supply gas to to Asia. It is also believed likely to transform Papua New Guinea’s economy.

A risk to the project development is the building of a 710 km pipeline from the Southern Highlands across rugged rainforest clad mountains to the capital of Port Moresby.

Mohammad Bashir is a reporter on the PNG Post-Courier.

Source: Post-Courier

ExxonMobil says violence ‘tribal, not related to its LNG venture