BY EOIN BLACKWELL
CUSTOMARY LANDOWNERS are calling on the Papua New Guinea government to call a halt to logging operations until a commission of inquiry into the nation's controversial land leases has concluded.
Greenpeace will today present a petition calling for moratorium on logging on behalf of 550 landowners in New Britain to Ben Michah, chief of staff to prime minister Peter O'Neill.
Signatories to the petition say their land has been fraudulently acquired by Gilford Limited and its parent company Rimbunan Hijau.
They are calling for logging to cease until a commission of inquiry reports back in March next year with its recommendations on PNG's controversial Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs).
SABLs offer up land for 99 year leases to companies to be used for raising livestock, however they have been the feature of long running court battles in PNG amid allegations they are land grab and a cover for clear-fell logging.
"The petition calls for the forest clearing authority to be suspended until the commission reports back," Greenpeace forest campaigner Paul Winn told AAP.
He said 16,000 hectares of trees had already been felled in New Britain, and that royalties paid to landowners were at the discretion of the logging companies Gilford and RH.
Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza, returned from New Britain to Port Moresby on Saturday after visiting landowners in and around the village of West Pomio.
While there Greenpeace blockaded the logging ship, Fu Tian, which it say had illegally acquired logs from the area.
Two weeks before that visit, Pomio landowners accused police of conducting a campaign of fear against the local population at the behest of Malaysian logging company RH.
PNG police have since admitted RH paid for officers to fly from New Britain's capital Rabaul to Pomio, but say they were there on a peacekeeping mission.
"Funding or the lack thereof is a major and real problem for PNG police operations nationwide," police spokesman Dominic Kakas told AAP.
"To maintain peace and law and order in isolated and remote parts of the country we have had to take advantage of logistical support and arrangements in place or provide by private companies ... in the form of transport (usually air) and accommodation.
"In these types of situations we ensure that there is peace and dialogue instead of physical confrontations."
Greenpeace forest campaigner Paul Winn said police operating in the area at the time beat villagers with fan belts and sticks across the head, as well as pulling a 12-year-old boy from a bed and threatening him with a machine gun.
The commission of inquiry into SABLs is currently conducting interviews around PNG.
Source: AAP, 30 October