Sunday, March 22, 2009

Violence erupts in Wau, leaving three dead and Hidden Valley gold mine shut

Caption: Burnout remains of a house at Kaisenik village in Wau yesterday. Picture by SAM BASIL.


Violence erupted in Wau, Morobe province at the weekend, leaving three people dead, several injured, houses and property destroyed, and forcing the temporary shutdown of the Hidden Valley gold mine and the evacuation of employees.

The incident comes just before Hidden Valley is to pour its first gold and could have severe repercussions for Papua New Guinea on the international mining scene.

A long-standing land dispute between Biangai and Watut tribes over ownership of the 2076 hectare McAdam National Park between Wau and Bulolo came to a head last Friday and Saturday as the Watuts gathered in Wau in their hundreds and staged an early morning attack on the Biangai villages.

Lae Hospital’s emergency ward today (Sunday) confirmed receiving the bodies of two men and admitting two other with shotgun pellet wounds while several others were said to have been treated in Bulolo for pellet wounds.

Bulolo MP Sam Basil, Menyamya MP Benjamin Phililp, provincial administrator Patilias Gamato and police today (Sunday) held crisis meetings with the Watut people in Wau and later moved to Biangai to meet with the local villages.

The Biangai villages around Wau comprise of Wandumi, Kaisenik, Kwembu, Biaweng, Ilauru, Were Were and Winima while the Watut villages stretch all the way from Wau to the border with Menyamya,

A Watut man was allegedly killed recently by Biangais over a gold-bearing piece of land on the national park, which is said to have sparked the tension.

Commander of Bulolo-based police mobile squad (MS) 15 Michael Tilae said that last Friday, the Watuts gathered in Wau town, and in a well co-ordinated dawn raid, attacked Biangai villages all the way to Kaisinik.

He said a 15-year-old paralysed boy was burned alive in a house and an old man was murdered by the Watuts and other opportunists, who numbered more than 1,000.

Mr Tilae said that last Saturday, the Watuts gathered en masse and were trying to advance on Wandumi, when they were halted by police.

“We had reinforcements from Lae and they managed to contain the situation at Wandumi Bridge,” he said.

“The Wandumis shot five Watuts that morning, who were taken to hospital, including one dead.

“Shops are closed, people are not moving around.

“Things are very tense at the moment.”

Mr Tilae said other people took advantage of the situation to converge on the Hidden Valley gold mine.

“We have one mobile squad up at Hidden Valley,” he said.

“There’s a group of Watuts up there demanding things from the company.

“We don’t know what exactly they are demanding.”

A Morobe Mining Joint Venture spokesman said today: “It was just opportunists that were taking matters into their own hands.

“It’s mainly in Wau that the skirmishes are.

“There were those who were looking to get into the mine.

“We beefed up all our security to counter that.

“The situation got volatile last Friday and as a precautionary measure, we had to move the families that were situated in Wau to Lae.

“We’ve secured the entrance to the mine so that only absolutely-essential traffic comes inside the gate.

“I understand that because of the disturbance, and the possibility of opportunists, we’ve just suspended operations for the time being.

“That’s just a precautionary measure.”


1 comment:

  1. The best report i've seen so far. What we're the economic motivations behind this dispute? I wonder if this post on land conflicts in the pacific sheds any light?