TRIBAL CONFLICT THREATENS PORGERA MINE
By MOSES MALINGI
PORGERA Gold Mine in Enga Province is under a serious threat as law and order problems escalate dramatically at present due to the spin off effects of a half-a-decade old severe tribal conflict emanating from the neighbouring Hela Province. The tribal rivalry between two known warlords in Tagali LLG in Tari, Hela has resulted in killing close to 100 people and raged about 90% of the volatile area that once enjoyed peace and prosperity. Now, the effects of the conflict has slowly creeped into Porgera, which hosts a world-class mineral resource project that significantly contributes to the national government coffers.
While safeguarding landmark foreign direct investments such as the Porgera Gold Mine during the economically turbulent times faced by our country is a paramount task of the government of the day, the equation will be balanced if the root cause of the tribal conflict is uprooted according to the rule of law.
According to the Lagaip-Porgera MP, the law and order problems affecting the Porgera Gold Mine originates from Paijaka, Pujaro and Ekanda villages in Tagali LLG in Tari-Pori district, Hela Province. For Hela people, it is obviously a public knowledge that two notorious warlords from these areas have caused unlawful violence and took lives of even innocent unarmed and harmless people including mothers and young women. All these atrocities took place while the current prime minister was still the elected MP of Tari-Pori.
Even though, he didn't tell them to fight and kill each other, he failed to provide the required leadership to force the warlords to the round table, negotiate for peace and certainly prevent the conflict from escalating even further until late 2019 when a team of negotiators headed by Karida 1 ward councillor Olly Urubu were sent to Porgera to broker cease fire.
Prime Minister James Marape is the elected representative of this particular place in PNG where the two (2) known notorious warlords have ruled and reigned over the 14 council wards out of 17 council wards in Tagali LLG since 2015. The 14 council wards are no-go-zone as we speak - no houses, no gardens, no church, no schools, no hospitals, no human beings living there. Bushes and shrubs have covered the roads as the area is deserted.
People have taken refuge in the three other council wards or elsewhere that are reasonably safer for them. The very people from Tagali LLG are the ones who had casted heavy block votes in favour of James Marape to give him the mandate required to represent them in the National Parliament. The people of Tagali LLG of course respect him as the country's Chief Executive. That is their pride and they hold him so dearly in their hearts - Marape is Tagali people's first born son as no other LLG in Tari-Pori used to cast high number of votes in favour of Marape. The number of votes Marape received from Tagali LLG during the last three national elections were notably higher than that of the other LLG's in Tari-Pori.
However, in his capacity as the local MP for Tari-Pori, at least the people surely need James Marape's intervention to restore peace & normalcy in Tagali LLG. The extrajudicial killings and escalation of law & order problems in Porgera, Enga is the direct spill over of the tribal warfare that spiralled out of Tagali LLG in neighbouring Tari-Pori district, Hela province. Despite the faithfulness and loyalty displayed by Tagali people to James Marape, he miserably failed the people. How? Marape simply failed to negotiate for peace and bring to justice those responsible for killing more than 70 lives in Tagali LLG.
This gross ignorance and negligence has resulted in the spill over of the deadly conflict into another neighbouring province of Enga- this time in Porgera, a volatile township which hosts the country's most significant revenue earner, the world-class Porgera Gold Mine. One may wonder why and how the ripples of a 5-year old deadly tribal fight, which has claimed more than 70 human lives in Hela Province, is now being felt in Enga Province. Well, these prime factors come into play: distance, tribal affiliation, mineral resource, money and strategic location. Firstly, let us look at the distance. From Porgera (in Enga), it takes only about two (2) days or less than 48 hours by walking to reach Pujaro, Ekanda & Paijaka villages in Hela while it takes about a week to walk from Porgera to Wabag. The distance between Tari & Porgera is very close, despite the two towns are not connected by a road.
Secondly, tribal affiliation through ongoing intermarriages and wave of migration pulled by the gold mine. Tribally, about 75% of Hela people living in Porgera are mainly from Tagali LLG in Hela province. They are there in search of better opportunities. Most have half family members or relatives living there in Porgera as a result of intermarriages dating back during the ancient days, even before the arrival of whitemen and commercialisation of the Porgera gold mine, while some have recently migrated to Porgera in search of better lifestyle during the mining operations. So both warring factions in Tagali LLG have their relatives and tribesmen living in Porgera in Enga.
Also, a good number of refugees from Tagali LLG have recently fled the troubled zone and are now taking refuge in Porgera through their tribal family ties there. The principal motive behind every tribal fight is to kill an enemy, to kill men. So when Pujaro, Ekanda and Paijaka areas in Tari are literally deserted with no men living there, what is the point in staging a guerilla style warfare there. The tribal warlords are now following the human trails, they are smelling the fresh bloods, and eventually entering Porgera where there are subjects to be slaughtered as sacrificial lambs.
Thirdly, Porgera is strategically situated for either of the warring factions to secure it as a strategic 'silk route'. Securing the perimeters of Porgera means securing the most valuable asset: road and transport network that can be utilised to transport alluvial gold out of Mt Kare to lucrative markets in Wabag, Mt Hagen and Port Moresby. The financial returns of the alluvial gold is then used to purchase high powered firearms, ammunitions and other logistics to finance the tribal war. The alluvial gold money is also used to compensate the lives lost during the tribal fights.
Lastly, controlling Porgera means you control the silk route and mineral resources from Mt Kare while you generate income (money) to sustain yourself as 'hero' and most respected warlord. In order to continue the psychological warfare of instilling fear and infusing divide and rule amongst the Huli diaspora in Porgera, control the silk route, capitalise on the illicit mineral resources extracted from Mt Kare, and smuggle illegal weapons into Hela, establishing a base in Porgera is the strategy both warring factions are now racing for.
So what are the negative consequences? Out of many you may think of, the two most important ones are (1) security & welfare of all people (residents of Porgera) and (2) security of the world-class Porgera gold mine are at stake. These are the number one priorities for all of us to safeguard when PNG is still into the economic recession. We haven't recovered yet, FYI. While our economy is slowly recovering from the aftermath of the global economic recession and reckless mismanagement of economy by the former PNC-led government, maintaining a considerate level of investor confidence in the lucrative natural resources projects is the government's priority task for we as a country depend on mineral & petroleum exports as our top national revenue earners.
When mandated leaders neglect their people, when elected leaders do not consider the safety and security of their fellow citizens, the resultant effect is non other than lawlessness. Lawlessness is a situation that arises out of government's lack of foresight to apply rule of law as the only means of solving problems. It means it is the government, through the elected leaders, that creates lawlessness when they do not apply the power they have through the rule of law to settle disputes.
Lawlessness in Porgera has empowered opportunists or illegal miners to raid the stock piles at Warawari, Akumbi, Alvis and even the dump sites at Anawe and Mungulep. What kind of message will the rise in illegal mining in Porgera signal to the potential investors who are planning to invest in Frieda River Copper Project, Papua LNG Project, etc? We need investor confidence to improve our global credit rating so investors will feel safe to bet their money here and generate returns for themselves as well as for PNG Government to maximise return on foreign direct investment. We as a country severely need liquidity to repay about K15 billion loan, address back log of foreign currency shortfall, reduce the escalating rate of inflation, grow sustainable diverse economy, etc.
It must be a collective effort from all of us including the Prime Minister (in his capacity as Tari-Pori MP), Police Minister, Enga & Hela Governors, Lagaip-Porgera MP, Mining Minister, and other local and provincial leaders to unite and solve this ongoing warfare before it escalates further resulting in slaughtering of many innocent lives. The Marape-Steven Government must treat the ongoing deadly tribal warfare in Tagali LLG as a paramount National Security Issue.
Calling of another State of Emergency or deploying of Police Mobile Squad or PNG Defence Force would be another band aid solution that must not be thought of at this stage. Solving this tribal warfare permanently through serious government intervention will surely restore peace and normalcy in both Tari and Porgera.
Justice must be delivered to the victims with severe punitive measures for the warlords as such actions will retain confidence in the rule of law, and would consequently imply that Marape-Steven Government is truly serious to Take Back PNG and eventually transform PNG to be the Wealthiest Black Christian Nation on the face of the Earth.