Don Hogg – old school journo cut his teeth in PNG

The awesome armaments of the Highlands raskols


BRISBANE - Oilmin Field Services provides various services to the petroleum industry in Papua New Guinea mainly with the seismic exploration programs.

The purpose of seismic exploration is to identify drilling targets for various oil companies. In the past, I was one of a number of ex-kiaps employed by Oilmin.

Ex-kiaps are usually employed in the capacity of logistics managers, camp managers, labour managers and in community relations.

In general the routine for personnel commencing a tour is to fly into the Oilmin Field Services base in Mt Hagen, overnight there and then fly out to the field the next day.

Usually we would lock our personal effects such as passports in the headquarters strong room in Mt Hagen and pick them up on the way out four weeks later.

Armaments 1One day this strong room was broken into and valuables including passports and digital cameras were stolen.

The Police were informed but proved unable to locate the thieves or stolen effects.

So to Plan B. Most people know who the culprits are so it’s just a matter of sending out the ‘tok’ offering to pay a ransom for the return of the stolen items particularly the passports.

So an appropriate payment was negotiated and made and the stolen items returned including the digital camera.

Whilst the camera was in the hands of the raskols, many photos were taken by them and not deleted from the returned camera, including those shown here.

They should be an eye-opener to people who are not are to speed with contemporary PNG.


This is a very sobering post indeed.

The worst most of us were confronted with was a few not very well aimed arrows or, in extremis, a single shot shotgun.

From what I can see in these pictures, these guys possess several old SLRs (ex PNGDF I'd guess) and at least a couple of what could be M16s (ex US Army?), plus an assortment of fairly heavy calibre bolt action weapons.

Assuming they have a few magazines of ammunition and a bit of training (ex PNGDF amongst them?), that is enough fire power to discourage even the most intrepid RPNGC outfit short of, possibly, their equivalent of our various state based Special Tasks and Resources (STAR) squads.

In any event, it is manifestly apparent why the RPNGC and, hence, the central government, evidently exerts a pretty tenuous grip on the hinterlands of PNG.

Armaments 3All this bodes very badly for the future, especially if things go pear-shaped with the economy. Desperate people can and will use desperate means to get what they want and places like Africa are replete with examples of heavily armed maniacs causing widespread mayhem.

If these guys ever get the idea of operating in concert with others rather than in small groups of bandits then nothing short of full scale military intervention will be needed to re assert control over the areas in which they operate.

Can the PNGDF undertake such a task? This seems doubtful given that a fairly rag-tag guerilla force on Bougainville gave them the rounds of the kitchen.

The viability of PNG as a sovereign entity could easily be upset by a relatively small number of criminals and malcontents, as events in place like the Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Rwanda have demonstrated all too clearly. All they need now is the ubiquitous Toyota Hilux as a gun wagon.


When I was stationed at Pindiu Patrol Post and nearby Sialum Base Camp in 1968-1971 there were only very minor law and order problems. Now it seems like anarchy rules the area, with plenty of heavily armed villagers quite prepared to confront any police sent to quieten things down.

Apparently all the primary and high school at Pindiu have been closed almost all this year. There have been serious cult activity problems in the Sialum area dating back until 2007. Forty years of progress since the kiaps left the area. At least it appears that the two kiap houses at Pindiu are still standing but the station looks pretty untidy.


Bear in mind that the guns in this group of photos are those in the hands of one village group only. Extrapolate this to the highlands in general and try to imagine how bad this problem is. It is beyond a situation of recovery.

There is even a commercial aspect to this: village groups will hire armed mercenary gangs to assist in their internecine squabbles. Another commercial aspect of this situation is the trading of guns from Bougainville into the highlands as well as the regularly, well established Torres Strait trade route for high powered weaponry in exchange for ‘highland gold’ (marijuana).

Other sources of arms are PNGDF and  Mobile Squads losing in confrontations, there are even stories (and I have no reason to doubt them) that RPNGC members hire their weapons to raskols on weekends.

Arms are treated as personal property by RPNGC and  PNGDF members. They are not handed back to the station armoury each night. And there is no accountability for ammunition.

The situation depicted in the Pindiu video is so common throughout the highland provinces that it barely rates a mention in the media nowadays.


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Chips Mackellar

As Chris has mentioned, "the worst most of us were confronted with was a few not very well aimed arrows." And sometimes, not even that.

One day (circa 1972) Harry Redmond (DDC Wabag) and I were returning to Wabag from Mount Hagen. As freezer items were cheaper in Hagen than in Wabag, our Landrover was heavily laden with everyone else's freezer order.

With Harry driving, we entered a deep cutting in the Highlands Highway and suddenly drove slap bang into the middle of a tribal fight.

Arrows were flying thick and fast over our heads from each side of the cutting, either side being occupied by opponents in the conflict, and there was much shouting and yodeling.

We were both unarmed and in no position to try to stop the conflict. So we sat and waited for one side to rout the other so we could proceed to Wabag.

But it didn't happen and in the meantime our load of freezer was in danger of defrosting. If we didn't do something soon, we would be delivering a load of rotten meat to Wabag.

So Harry put his head out the window and called for a truce. Within seconds a fierce looking tribal leader approached the Landrover. He saw we were unarmed and recognised us as kiaps from Wabag.

Harry told him it was urgent for us to pass through the cutting in order to save the frozen meat from defrosting. The clan leader blew several blasts on a whistle.

The arrows stopped flying and the shouting and the tumult died and in the deathly silence which followed, the clan leader shouted in Pidgin: "Stop fighting and let the kiaps pass. They are taking freezer to Wabag."

Then with a wave of his hand he said, "paPs through, kiaps." We drove through the deathly silence, then when we reached the end of the cutting we heard more blasts of the whistle and the clan leader shouted, "The kiaps have gone. Continue fighting."

And the tumult and the shouting resumed. Thus we continued our journey unharmed and the freezer load was delivered safely to Wabag.

Alas. Tribes don't fight like this any more.

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