A team works to unload emergency supplies from a helicopter in Papua New Guinea. (Supplied: Thomas Nybo/ Unicef)
Heavily armed police are being sent to Papua New Guinea’s Highlands to deal with violence that has disrupted the distribution of earthquake relief supplies.
Provincial authorities in Tari, near the earthquake epicentre, suspended the delivery of aid supplies while they negotiated with grieving relatives of a local councillor who was shot dead in the town on March 16.
Airlines cancelled flights and services in the town were disrupted when relatives marched on government offices, demanding action from police and the provincial administration.
Hela Province administrator William Bando said he and other senior officials were forced to deal with the unrest before it sparked more violence.
“If we didn’t intervene only God knows what could have happened, it could have been another disaster falling in our face, so we had to suspend the food distributions,” he said.
The man was killed as part of ongoing tribal violence in the restive province, but Mr Bando said he was a respected elder and was not part of any of the current conflicts.
“The late councillor is a very peaceful person in a place that’s rife with tribal fighting and killing,” he said.
“Almost every week there’s someone being killed and he’s been a hope for peace and saying ‘no fighting, don’t do this’ and unfortunately his life was taken.”
Mr Bando said the protest had been resolved peacefully and that aid distributions and commercial flights would soon resume.
There was widespread damage to infrastructure from the February 26 earthquake. (Supplied: Catholic Bishop Donald Lippert)
Criminals ‘capitalising on quake disorder’
PNG police are sending two sections of the heavily-armed mobile squad, two investigators and a police prosecutor to Tari to deal with any further unrest.
The existing police contingent in Tari has struggled after the quake.
One unit which tried to visit a quake-affected area was held up by armed men who stole their firearms.
Police Commissioner Gari Baki said some people were using the disorder created by the quake to commit crimes.
“They’re using this as an opportunity, once the disaster is on, to challenge the police in this regard,” he said.
“Now they’re creating so much fear in the minds of our people over there and also most of the police officers there are not from the province and some of them have gone.”