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Female principals join march to end tribal war in Wabag

Principal  and deputy principal Jane (right)
Nursing school principal Noelyn Koutalo from New Ireland and deputy Janet Nakore from West New Britain


WABAG - It was a rare sight to see two women – the principal of a nursing school and her deputy - marching to petition the Papua New Guinea government to stop the warfare on Wabag's doorstep with a more effective intervention.

Principal Noelyn Koutalo from New Ireland and deputy Janet Nakore from West New Britain said they joined in the protest march because Enga is now their home and they were sad to see the suffering, death and destruction resulting from the prolonged tribal war between the Kii and the Kala tribes on the edge of town.

Noelyn Koutalo graduated from Sopas School of Nursing when it was operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church before it moved to the Pacific Adventist University. She was appointed principal when the provincial government established the new college in 2013.

She has lived in Enga for nearly 25 years and her deputy, Janet Nakore, has been at the college for eight years. Both were very near the fighting zone and experienced the effects of the tribal fight.

So they decided to joinehundreds of people including the principal of Kopen Secondary School, Dominic Lawton, and church and community leaders from Kopen, Kamas, Kaiap, Sopas, Lakaiyok and many other areas to ask the authorities to stop the fighting and restore services.

The protesters said the government must immediately ensure that electricity was reconnected to the school of nursing, the secondary school, churches, businesses to homes which had been without power for some time.

Fighting behind the tall trees
Gunfire caused Wabag Primary School (foreground) to suspend classes as the fighting raged behind the tall trees (centre distant)

The fighting has affected the lives of thousands of people in Kandep, Laiagam and Porgera that, when they travel, they are forced to use a long and circuitous route to avoid Wabag when entering Enga Province.

Kandep Primary School headmaster Markus Kandai who had travelled this roundabout route just two days ago was nevertheless robbed at knifepoint by a couple of youths suspected to be from the Kala tribe.

The petitioners asked Kala and Kii tribesman not to rob townsfolk, travellers or block the main Highlands Highway.

The warfare has affected the education of students living near the fighting zone between Amala and Teremanda.

Students from the Kala tribe cannot attend the School of Nursing and the Secondary School while students on the Kii side cannot attend Enga Teachers College and Wabag Secondary School, let alone come into town to do business.

Ms Koutalo said five students on the Kala side have been missing classes at Sopas Nursing School and Kopen Secondary School for eight months since the tribal war erupted following last year’s national election and disputed voting results.

Because both the Kala and Kii tribes live along the Highlands Highway, students find it dangerous to pass through and are forced to stay away from classes.

Kopen Secondary School principal Lawton said since the Kii and the Kala resumed fighting three weeks ago over a piece of gardening land, his students have stayed away from classes.

Both Ms Koutalo and Mr Lawton said the fight was affecting the future of the students and the two tribes must agree to stop their fight which in the end achieves nothing but pain and heartache for all involved.

The two principals said the serious drug shortage in hospitals throughout PNG meant that people who were seriously wounded in the fighting had died at both Wabag General Hospital and Sopas hospital.

Principal & community leaders
Community leaders listen to speeches after presenting the petition

Over 20 young men have been killed so far, many others have been seriously wounded and millions of kina worth of property has been destroyed since the warfare began eight months ago.

The fighting has continued even though 60 defence force soldiers and the same number of police have been deployed to Wabag.

The most recent casualty was a young man, a mercenary from Kandep, who was killed last Monday.

The army has now cleared the Highlands Highway and traffic has to flowed normally for the past three days.

Let’s hope the protesters march into town will motivate the government to find a lasting solution.


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Daniel Kumbon

People travelling to Wabag in Enga Province need to beware.

Security forces have just announced a curfew restricting movement of people from 9pm till 6am starting today, Monday.

Be on the safe side.

Rashmii Bell

In reading Jo Chandler's long form essay in The Monthly (May 2018), I most appreciated not only the inclusion but breadth of attention to the voices of women of Hela, who provided in their own words, a wider scope of the implications due to unanswered questions about LNG royalties payments.

And thank you, Daniel. I appreciated your informative article for much the same reasons as I did Jo Chandler's.

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