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Pacific News Minute: State Of Emergency After Riots in PNG’s Southern Highlands Province

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A State of Emergency has been declared in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands Province. Last week, rioters burned a commercial airplane, the courthouse and the home of the provincial governor.

The violence was a by-product of last year’s much disputed elections, which saw widespread irregularities. Last Thursday, after a court upheld the election of Southern Highlands governor William Powi, angry supporters of defeated candidate Joseph Kobol flooded into Mendi, the provincial capital.

The local police commander said his men were outnumbered and outgunned and decided to retreat rather than start a firefight. Kobol’s supporters burned a Dash 8 regional airliner, and torched several buildings in town. They also looted a warehouse containing relief supplies for victims of February’s massive earthquake in the highlands. No injuries were reported.

Following the decision to impose the state of emergency, armed supporters of Governor Powi demanded restoration of the provincial government, and threatened the huge project that pipes natural gas from the highlands 300 miles to the national capital, Port Moresby.  

Yesterday, at a news conference in Port Moresby, Joseph Kobol apologized for the actions of his supporters and pledged to support the rule of law. 

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill

An overnight curfew is in effect in Mendi, and troops and police reinforcements have arrived. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, whose seat is in the Southern Highlands, declared that the situation is returning to normal. But Mendi Police Commander Gideon Kauke told Johnny Blades of RNZ Pacific that the combination of deep seated political differences and high-powered firearms makes the situation highly charged and that he hadn’t made any arrests yet, for fear of provoking more violence.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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