WELLINGTON - Last week's court ruling upholding Southern Highlands governor William Powi's 2017 election win sparked the rampage by supporters of a losing candidate who had challenged the result.
As part of the ensuing state of emergency provisions, Papua New Guinea’s government has ordered the deployment of armed forces to restore order and has suspended the provincial government.
However, subsequently supporters of the suspended government and Mr Powi have been mobilising around the province with high-powered weapons, threatening violence.
While Mendi had quietened down by Monday, Mendi police commander Gideon Kauke said the potential for unrest remained acute.
"This is not a normal law and order situation. It is political differences and politically manipulated issues that are causing all the destructions," he said.
Earlier, prime minister Peter O'Neill said those behind last week's destruction would be arrested and prosecuted. But Commander Kauke said police hadn't made arrests yet because the situation was highly charged.
"We will not immediately take action, but we will try and form a team of investigators, and they will look into this one," Kauke said.
"Those who are responsible in causing destructions and the burning down of buildings, they'll be investigated, arrested and charged."
A former top policeman, Thomas Eluh, has been placed in charge of the nine-month emergency operations.
Eluh was appointed as acting provincial administrator in Southern Highlands late last year as the national government sought to restore order to a dysfunctional public service amid lingering lawlessness and election-related violence.
He continued in the role through February's magnitude 7.5 earthquake which caused widespread destruction and death in both Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.
However Eluh, from Manus, was seen as having disrupted the interests of some Southern Highlands political power brokers and was sidelined in April.
Well aware of the type of political ructions linked to the latest unrest in Mendi, Eluh said he still had strong support on the ground in the province and would be available to listen to grievances. But he cautioned he would not play politics.
"There are a few factions here and there, particularly aligned to certain politicians," he said, "and of course the current acting administrator (Joseph Cajetan) would want to maybe protest or do these sort of things. But we will not allow it because of the state of emergency."
Eluh said his approach would include encouraging talks between the opposing political factions. Rather than using brute force, he said bringing the community onside was one of the first things he would be doing.
"It's not a police issue alone. This needs a collective effort from everybody," he explained.
"I've done that before, during my time as an administrator, for the first time. I was given military and the police to - in a way - use force. But that's not how I operate. How I operate is getting everyone onside: churches, youths, leaders at all levels."
Eluh admitted that it would be difficult to placate the mobs involved in political violence.
"The province is ever divided. People have taken sides, and it's extremely difficult to try and convince them. But what I have been banking on is consistent awareness and dialogue with the people."
O'Neill held a press conference with other elected leaders from Southern Highlands province in Port Moresby on Monday.
"We want to apologise to PNG for some of the events that has taken place, mainly out of frustration that they have not been given the opportunity to engage in the court proceedings which resulted in a decision that they were not accepting," he said.
O'Neill alluded to the rampage as being the actions of a "few individuals", and said the leaders had agreed that the rule of law must be followed.
Alongside O'Neill at the press conference was the losing candidate whose supporters were behind Thursday's rampage, Joseph Kobol, as well as Powi whose election Kobol has alleged was the result of a rigged electoral process.
Kobol apologised for what his supporters had done. He admitted the destruction of an Air Niugini Dash-8 aircraft was uncalled for, saying he was willing to let the election challenge be handled by the court system.
"The state of emergency that's been in place during the (earthquake) disaster will be extended, and now it will take carriage over all the other law and order issues in the country as well," the prime minister added.
"They will conduct their own investigations without any political interference whatsoever from the leaders and we will allow the agencies of government including police and defence and the courts to deal with some of the law and order issues in the province."
However PNG's parliamentary opposition has demanded that the prime minister, who is a Southern Highlands MP, resign over the unrest, describing it as an indication that the people of the province had rejected his leadership
The opposition leader Patrick Pruaitch said elected leaders of the province must go to Southern Highlands to resolve the situation
"We need to have Southern Highlands getting down to Mendi and getting the leadership there to resolve the issue," Pruaitch said.
According to Pruaitch, the unrest was bad publicity for PNG particularly as it prepared to host the APEC leaders’ summit in November.
Meanwhile, there are fears that the Southern Highlands' unrest could spread to neighbouring Hela Province, itself recently hampered by deadly tribal fighting.
At the weekend a police mobile squad team was held up and had its vehicles and guns taken by angry supporters of the suspended provincial government in Nipa near the provincial border.
The build-up of weapons among tribal and political groups in the Highlands is of particular concern. A former PNG Defence Force commander, Jerry Singirok, has warned that police and military deployed to the region to quell the latest unrest could face superior firepower.