WABAG - At last town residents, business houses and the general public are resuming normal life, or so we are assured by the authorities.
The post-election warfare officially ceased Wednesday under a heavy police and army presence. More than 30 people died in the violence, including four this week.
Provincial Police Commander Supt George Kakas said the Kii and Kala tribes had wrongly allowed former opposition leader Don Polye and civil aviation minister and member for Kandep Alfred Manasseh to exploit them to stage three weeks of killing and destruction.
Supt Kakas said the two tribes had agreed to stop fighting and accepted conditions of a preventative order which restrained them from further violence.
“Leaders named in the preventative order documents will be arrested,” Supt Kakas warned, adding that police and army personnel will remain in Wabag until normalcy returns to the small town.
He said the guerrilla-style tribal war claimed very many lives and caused property destruction valued at millions of kina.
Sophisticated modern assault weapons like M16s and Russian-made AK47s were used in the fighting which raged on the edge of Wabag town after Kandep returning officer Ben Besawe and other election officials were shot at on Saturday 22 July.
In an unrelated incident, a Bangladeshi businessman died in a fire which added to the confusion. Four other Bangladeshi men escaped the blaze which had started from a faulty gas stove.
Of the many election-related killings, two were mobile squad police officers based in Mt Hagen. A third officer remains in critical condition at a hospital in Port Moresby.
Three babies died in incubators and a fourth was stillborn after the mother fled Wabag General Hospital when it was attacked after Governor Peter Ipatas was declared winner of the regional seat.
The hospital suffered much destruction and is still closed but is expected to re-open next week. Two patients, now in the care of relatives, were Kandep assistant returning officer George Marke (pictured) and Tawale Kondal who had been attacked on the first day of fighting.
Last Monday afternoon, a Grade 11 student from Kopen Secondary School was killed in Wabag as looters tried to destroy an Asian shop. He had arrived from Sirunki with his mother to withdraw from studies but was caught in the melee.
Supt Kakas said a post-mortem will be conducted to determine if police-issued firearms had been used to shoot the student.
He said the student’s parents claimed a policeman had shot him and this will be determined after proper investigations and ballistics tests.
Supt Kakas said Mr Polye’s supporters said they were forced to fight after it was alleged seven boxes of ballot papers expected to favour Mr Polye had been set aside.
Supt Kakas said he had advised Mr Polye’s supporters to go home and said the former Opposition leader should apply to the Court of Disputed Returns to settle outstanding matters.
“I told them if they kept on fighting more deaths and destruction would occur and nobody would achieve anything,” he said.
He said he would keep the seven ballot boxes in a safe location until a decision was made by the court.
Provincial Police Commander Supt George Kakas warned that leaders named on the preventive order documents will be arrested if people continue to harbour political supporters of Don Polye and Alfred Manasseh.
Pisara Pambai, one of several local community leaders from Wabag, who organised a demonstration expressing people’s concerns at the lack of interest shown by the government in stopping warfare in which more than 30 people were killed and millions of kina worth property destroyed.
Led by Sakalis Youth carrying placards reading, ‘Where is Government?’, local Apiap men and women march to Wabag police station to join other local demonstrators calling for government intervention to stop the fighting.