By JEFFREY ELAPA
POLICE, in their campaign against alcohol-smuggling, have left hundreds of people homeless and others injured during raids in the Margarima district, Southern Highlands, yesterday, The National reports.
District chief Kerry Mamai Lero said more than 100 homes and trade stores were raided and properties destroyed during the raid at Hiri in the lower Waghi local level government.
He said the raid started at the Olam villages and ended at Wapulaka village, a distance of about 10km.
Lero said the people had been left homeless and he asked for assistance, describing the situation as a "disaster".
Attempts to get comments from provincial police commander Supt John Anawe in Tari were unsuccessful.
Police Commissioner Anthony Wagambie, when contacted last night, said he was not aware of the incident.
It was believed that the series of raids was conducted by armed policemen based at the LNG project site and at Tari.
The attack was said to be in retaliation for the recent burning of a police vehicle allegedly by locals.
Lero said the vehicle-burning incident took place when six Margarima policemen, in civilian clothes and allegedly drunk and led by station commander Snr Const John Sali, were returning from Mendi and were confronted by two youths.
He said an argument started and the local youths, who were also drunk, burnt the police vehicle.
He said while the youths were also at fault, the families and traders in the district should not be blamed for the incident.
Lero said the villagers had even volunteered to help police detain the youths who had allegedly burnt the vehicles.
Police sources, however, claimed that on the day of the vehicle-burning incident, more than 19 youths, armed with weapons and led by a local teacher, had stopped the police vehicle. Others joined them and overturned the vehicle before burning it.
Police said the villagers were angry that the officers had confiscated 150 cartons of beer from traders in the area.
Police had been conducting regular patrols in the area following a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol put in place by the provincial executive council.
Hela leaders have condemned the vehicle-burning, saying it was the first time civilians had turned against police.
This was the second incident involving beer smuggling in the province this year.
An earlier incident resulted in the death of a policeman at Kaupena in Ialibu after a group of officers had intercepted villagers illegally transporting beer over the Kaguel River.
The body of the officer was found on the banks of the Purari River a few months later.
Meanwhile, reports from Mendi said people were still consuming alcohol despite the province-wide ban.