By JAMES APA GUMUNO
THOUSANDS of people in Mt Hagen, Western Highlands, were all in a state of panic on Saturday afternoon after a huge fight broke out in the city's main shopping centre, The National reports.
The city came to a stand still for three hours and although police did their best to control the situation, many people suffered injuries from the stone missiles exchanged between two groups in the street fight.
The two landmark properties in the city, the AGC Haus and six-storey Komkui building, owned by Komkui Development Corporation, were badly damaged.
Some opportunist broke into the Central Business System, located on the ground floor of AGC, and reportedly removed some computers.
According to an eyewitness Tom Puk, a security guard at the Renbo Supermarket, the fight started at the Southern Highlands bus stop around 1.30pm.
Puk said a young man, believed to be from Western Highlands, pick-pocketed a man from Southern Highlands waiting to board a PMV bus home.
Bystanders at the bus stop, after seeing the man stealing, bashed him up and soon, friends of the thief joined in and fought the bystanders.
The fight then spread.
Puk said the thief and his friends were chased into the main shopping centre, and soon after, people waiting for buses mobilised and fought against other people roaming around in the shopping centre.
Many people suffered deep cuts from stones thrown.
By this time, policemen on duty were outnumbered by those in the clash.
Komkui Development Corporation chairman and paramount chief of Moge tribe, Andrew Dokta, blamed the police for the damage done to the buildings, vehicles and injuries sustained.
Dokta said if the police had intervened quickly when the fight started at the bus stop, none of the damage or injuries would have occurred.
He said the fact the fight lasted three hours clearly indicated that police were not prepared to deal with riots in the city.
He said a police mobile squad unit should be available at short notice to contain such trouble, adding that although business houses paid a lot of tax to the government, police were not doing enough to protect their property.
He said it was very hard to claim compensation for the damage because it was a street fight and no one particular person or tribe could be held responsible.
The cost of the damage to his two buildings will be assessed today.
Meanwhile, Paul Pawa, owner of Mox 1 Security Service engaged at the AGC Haus, said his security guards could not do much to protect the building.
Pawa said his men were over-powered by the crowd and the police task force arrived later and brought the situation under control and dispersed the crowd.
A staff of the Mt Hagen Provincial Hospital confirmed many people suffered injuries were treated at the hospital and discharged.