Sunday, November 25, 2012

Manus refugee facility faces power threat

By Eoin Blackwell, 

AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

Tent accommodation at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Manus Island landowners have threatened to shut down power after the arrival of asylum seekers. Source: AAP

LANDOWNERS on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island have threatened to shut down electricity to parts of the province, less than a week after Australia's first batch of asylum seekers arrived.
The 19 Sri Lankan and Iranian asylum seekers, including four children, were flown to Manus on Wednesday.
They are currently being housed in "G camp" within the temporary tent facility on Lombrum naval base, the same site as the Howard-era detention facility.
Now known as "Newtown" to locals and the G4S security guards running the site, the facility will house up to 600 asylum seekers in the coming months.
Local MP Ronnie Knight says landowner groups on Saturday threatened to shut down power to parts of the province over demands for compensation from Australia to use the site.
"I had to break the news to them that they were not going to get what they want," Mr Knight said.
"They did not take it well. I told them I would do my best to see they get something.
"(If they cut the power) the people of Manus will rise up and chase them out."
The facility itself is powered by four large generators and is not expected to be affected by loss of power to Manus proper.
The Australian and PNG governments have sent a joint task force to Manus to assess what infrastructure projects need assistance, while the Australian High Commission has said it cannot hand out money to landowner groups.
A group involved in blockading Manus airport on November 12 gave the PNG government a two-week deadline to meet with them.
That deadline ends on Tuesday.
The PNG government has sent 64 mobile riot-squad police to Manus, a move Mr Knight said should keep the landowners from following through on their most recent threat.
The landowners, who represent as many as five different clans around Lombrum, were angered after it was announced controversial security firm G4S was given contracts to run the site.
Since Australia announced in August it planned to send asylum seekers to the island the groups have separately made demands for compensation totalling $45 million, security contracts for running the site as well as building contracts.
"I want development and funds so I can start my business," said John Lou, who leads the Lombrum clan living just outside the base.
He says he will not resort to aggressive action such as blockading goods and services to the facility, but he is considering legal action.
"The PNG government didn't give us a chance to get in on this project," he said.
It is unclear when the next batch of asylum seekers are due to arrive on Manus.
The Australian government announced in August that it would process asylum seekers on offshore facilities in Nauru and Manus Island.
Nauru eventually will have space for 1500 people.
AAP and PNG'S The Post Courier were denied access to the site on Friday by G4S and PNG Immigration, who told reporters they were following orders from Canberra.

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