Friday, February 5, 2010

Police Brutality Alleged Near Papua New Guinea Gold Mine

Amnesty International says police in Papua New Guinea have burnt down homes and illegally evicted people living near a mine owned by the world's largest gold mining company. In a new report Amnesty International calls on the government to investigate what they call "police brutality".

Shanta Martin is Amnesty International's mining and human rights specialist. She says the police used violence and intimidation to clear over 100 buildings.

"Between April and July of 2009, the police who were brought in to an area in the highlands of Papua New Guinea to deal with an increase in law and order problems burnt down villages that were right next door to the operations of the Porgera Gold Mines," said Martin.

The police force says those who have been evicted from their homes were living there illegally.

But Martin says no warning of eviction was given and she says the police used excessive brutality.

Amnesty says there is no evidence that Barrick Gold, which owns 95 percent of the mine, played any part in the evictions. But it says the mining company should end their support of the police, which through a subsidiary of Barrick Gold received accommodation, food and fuel.

And, Martin says the gold producer should have done more to investigate the forced evictions.

"Even having found that, and agreed that, there were evictions by the police right next door to the mine's facilities, within the special mining lease area and within sight of personnel who were working within the minds, neither Barrick Gold Corporation nor the Porgera Joint Venture has urged for an independent investigation by the authorities and quite frankly that's just not good enough," she said.

In a statement, Barrick Gold has said Amnesty International's research into Porgera is not objective and has not taken into account complicated social and legal issues on the ground.

Martin says the government must investigate the evictions and prosecute those responsible. And, she says moves should be made to help resettle those people who are still living within the mining area.

"There's also a need to have a look at whether or not the people who are currently living within the special mining lease area really ought to be relocated to an area outside that mine lease," said Martin.

The Porgera Gold Mine, located in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province, is one of Barrick Gold's largest mining operations.


PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Cholera "going from bad to worse

PORT MORESBY, 5 February 2010 (IRIN) - Cholera continues to spread in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where government health officials are now describing the disease as a major national public health concern.

“Things are going from bad to worse,” Victor Golpak, the government’s national response coordinator for cholera, told IRIN on 5 February.

“This is now a national public health concern. We cannot ignore it any longer,” he said.

Since the first case was reported in August 2009, more than 2,000 cases have been confirmed nationwide, including 577 in Morabe Province, 885 in Madang and 602 East Sepik Province, the country’s National Department of Health reports.

As of 5 February, 45 people have died.

Much of Momase - one of four areas in the Pacific island nation comprising East Sepik, Madang, Morabe, and West Sepik provinces - is now affected.

There have also been single cases reported in the country’s Eastern Highlands Province, as well as the capital, Port Moresby, in late January.

“The disease is very much mobile,” Golpak said. “Tragically, the government has not woken up to this fact yet,” he said, referring to a lack of funding so far to curtail its spread.

On the move

Cholera was first detected in Morabe Province, and a national response team was set up by the Department of Health, supported by the National Disaster Response Centre, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international partners.

In October 2009, cholera was detected in the northern province of Madang, followed by another outbreak in East Sepik in November.

Despite that, resources to curtail the disease’s spread are in short supply.

Of particular concern is the situation in East Sepik, with cholera cases reported in Wewak, Angoram and Ambunti districts, as well as around Murik Lake - the home of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

There, provincial health authorities have joined forces with staff from Oxfam New Zealand, Save the Children PNG, WHO, and Médecins Sans Frontières, to help contain the disease’s spread.

Provincial health officials, together with NGO partners, have set up cholera treatment centres in affected districts, but time is of the essence, aid workers say.

Of the 602 cases treated thus far in East Sepik, there have been 16 deaths, Oxfam said on 4 February.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Large parts of the population do not have access to safe drinking water
“We are getting more reports of deaths coming in from the rural areas that we have yet to confirm,” said Andrew Rankin, Oxfam’s Sepik programme manager, who also described the situation around Murik Lake as particularly bad.

Clean water at a premium

According to health experts, cholera, an acute intestinal infection, is fuelled largely by poor sanitation practices and inadequate access to safe drinking water.

About 58 percent of the country’s six million inhabitants do not have access to safe drinking water, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) reports.

“People paddle for miles to fetch water. There is hardly any fresh and safe water around,” Rankin said.

Although water tanks, buckets and other essential items have been distributed to affected communities, they are useless without any rain.

Many residents continue to use water from the Sepik river - PNG’s second largest and a primary source of water for both drinking and washing.

In November, WHO confirmed large traces of the bacteria vibrio cholerae in the river.

“We found cholera in the water in more than one location and the bacterial results were very high,” Daniel Bleed, an epidemiologist with WHO, told IRIN at the time.

But even more worrying now is how to curtail the disease’s spread - and not just along the Sepik river.

“Madang and Morabe also have big river systems, but we have yet to test the water there,” Golpak noted.

Resources lacking

On the ground, Sibauk Bieb, the operations coordinator for the government’s cholera task force in Madang, says time is running out to stop the spread.

With resources largely depleted, and unable to pay his own staff, he is appealing directly to international donors for help.

“What other choice do I have?” Bieb asked reluctantly. “I continue to make representations to the government at the provincial and national level, but so far no funding is forthcoming. We need help and we need help now.”

In September, cholera was declared a public health emergency by the government, which committed more than US$4 million to combat its spread.

As of 5 February, however, just US$900,000 had been released nationwide, leaving provincial authorities and NGOs struggling to cope.

Clan killings at Papua New Guinea gasfields

FIGHTING has claimed 16 lives over the past week at villages near both ends of a planned 600km pipeline down which will flow Papua New Guinea's great new economic hope, its $16.5 billion gas project.

As a result, project leader ExxonMobil has suspended road building work by Queensland-based Curtain Brothers for the liquefaction plant near Port Moresby.

A second, $8bn project was announced recently by InterOil, which is based in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, and is largely operated from Cairns.

The first of the latest killings came in an early morning raid by villagers from Erave district in Southern Highlands, against an enemy clan that lives in an area without road access. The attackers used high-powered guns to kill 11 people.

ExxonMobil and the police denied the incident was directly related to the gas project, but it took place close to the area of the gasfields, from which the gas will be piped 600km to Port Moresby.

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The second attack came in an area where deadly tribal fighting has been almost unknown for decades, between local Papuan clans within Port Moresby. Villagers from Porebada launched a raid on Boera village, near the site of the gas liquefaction plant.

Police Superintendent Andy Bawa told The National newspaper that the fight, in which five people died from gun shots, appeared to be over land ownership. Massive compensation payments are expected to be made for access to land for gas projects.

The heightening of expectations from LNG projects is intensifying conflicts over land, and over access to the massive flows of wealth that are anticipated. It is only weeks since the projects were given the go-ahead, yet the construction phase will take several years - during which such pressure from landowners, and from the large proportion of unemployed young people, is expected to keep building.

Despite receiving revenues from a succession of resource projects, PNG languishes at 148th out of 182 countries in the UN's human development index.

The police commanders of the five Highlands provinces met a few days ago to discuss plans to combat law and order problems expected to result from the LNG projects.

Acting divisional commander Thomas Eluh said these issues might include changes in attitudes of people living in the affected areas, illegal immigrants, money laundering and terrorism, and that increased police resources would thus be needed.

Wilson Kamit warned in his handover speech this week after a decade as governor of the Bank of PNG about LNG "hype".

"We should not spend any money until we have actually received it," he said. "Let's not borrow against expected income until we have realised it."

He urged the central bank be allowed to manage the revenues from these giant projects, through a fund protected from political pressures "to ensure it does not become a petty cash box for anyone".

Young Canada stun French, Argentinians

Taylor Paris needed a letter of consent from his parents to play in the IRB World Sevens Series.

The 17-year-old Canadian sevens player will need no such permission to tear into the cup quarterfinals at Westpac Stadium today.

Fairytales were in short supply on opening day of the NZI Sevens, but Canada's young side provided as close as it got.

With Paris and two 18-year-olds in the side, Canada were the lone voice for the underdogs after upsetting Argentina 26-7 and beating France 21-19 in pool play to earn a quarterfinal against England.

When Argentina bowed out with a 33-12 loss to Samoa in their final pool match, it sparked wild celebrations in the Canadian camp.

"This is huge for us," coach Morgan Williams said. "We went bowling yesterday and I tried to split them up into over-22 and under and realised the older team only had two players."

Williams, who played in Wellington a year ago, has chosen a young side with an eye to the 2016 Olympics and is thrilled how quickly the players have responded.

"We couldn't get a release of any of our pros this year, so we've gone for the future. Usually we don't get our athletes in rugby till they are 22-23 , so we want to develop talent from a younger age."

The Canadian team had to fund-raise to attend buildup tournaments.

Paris got a dream start in Wellington, scoring with his first touch of the ball in Canada's first-up win against Argentina.

The other emotional aside yesterday was the sight of sevens great Waisale Serevi coaching Papua New Guinea against his homeland.

As he was on the field, Serevi is humble as a coach and was quick to congratulate his countrymen after they had beaten his new charges 41-0.

For Papua New Guinea, it was a tough ask after being readmitted to the IRB series this year for the first time since 2006, but Serevi believes the raw talent is there to make a bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Just Back: tribal tales from Papua New Guinea

The man's voice came from behind. Not a very original chat-up line, I thought as I turned to reply. I might have swooned from shock at the apparition confronting me had I been anywhere but the Mount Hagen sing-sing (Papua New Guinea cultural show).

Cigarette in hand, he was stark naked – except for a discreetly placed small triangle of leaves – and daubed all over with light grey mud. Adding to his ghostlike appearance were extended finger nails and a huge grotesque full-head mask tucked under his arm. He belonged to the Asaro tribe who, legend says, before setting out to avenge defeat in an intertribal fight, covered themselves with pale clay and made fearsome masks in the hope that their enemies would flee in terror. They did. Thus was tradition born.

The Asaro is one of more than 50 tribes that travel long distances to attend this annual two-day event. It was instituted by the government in 1961 in an attempt to bring together in a peaceable gathering people renowned for their ferocity, and to encourage pride in their cultural heritage. Incompatible aims: awarding prizes for best performances was soon abandoned as fights broke out over the results.

Preparations for the event begin at dawn. Despite the throng (more than 10,000), it is surprisingly quiet as everyone concentrates on adornment. The pungent smell of pig grease and oil – rubbed into the skin to make it glisten – pervades the air, mingling with the aroma of food cooking over open fires.

Broken fragments of mirror are peered into as faces and bodies are painted in intricate traditional designs, though chemical dyes – giving brighter colours – are now preferred to natural ones. Shell or bone nose discs are inserted, shell breastplates hung around necks and fixed to torsos, skirts or aprons of leaves fastened around waists. Men strut about, cockerel-like, each with a bunch of leaves attached to his bottom. Elaborate headdresses – some more than six-feet high and decorated with flowers, shells and feathers – rival any at Ascot.

In an hour-long procession, tribes enter the arena one by one, chanting and drumming. Then the display begins. One tribe marches in military formation around the perimeter, spears at the ready. Elsewhere, headdresses bob and sway, grass swishes and buxom bare bosoms bounce to rhythmic stamping and jumping; my soles feel the vibrations. Young children dressed as miniature adults join in. All to the incessant pulsating beat of kundu drums and chanting, each tribe providing its own music. Incongruously, a uniformed brass band occupies one corner, striking up When the Saints Go Marching In.

Surrounded by this exuberant kaleidoscopic hubbub, I reflect that the New Guinea Highlands was scarcely contacted by the outside world until the Sixties. These people's parents would have hurled spears or arrows at a European woman instead of shaking hands and exchanging names. Or asking her for a match.

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Taiwan ex-Foreign Minister in Singapore court over Papua New Guinea scandal

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Former Foreign Minister James Huang appeared at the Singapore High Court Monday to give testimony in the trial against a man accused of embezzling US$29.8 million (NT$1 billion) from Taiwan to help establish diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea.
Self-styled diplomatic brokers Charles Ching and Wu Shih-tsai persuaded Huang’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pay them the sum in September 2006 in return for persuading Papua New Guinea to sever relations with Beijing and recognize Taiwan instead.

The diplomatic switch did not materialize but the money disappeared from the brokers’ accounts. Ching was believed to be hiding in China or North America while Wu was detained in Taiwan in 2008. He was sentenced to two years and four months for forgery and defamation.

Huang told reporters in Singapore Monday he was appearing in court as a witness and would do his utmost in Taiwan’s interest. Nobody at MOFA ever worked on the deal for personal profit. All they had in mind was to win a new diplomatic ally for Taiwan, Huang said.

An attorney for Ching said the defendant was willing to address the court through videoconferencing from California during the five days of hearings.

Attorneys for Taiwan’s MOFA agreed to the request after discussions with court officials.

According to Singapore court practice, the plaintiffs will first be heard. Apart from Huang, former MOFA adviser Chang Chiang-sheng and current Taiwan representative in the Philippines Donald Lee will also testify. Li headed MOFA’s Department for Asia Pacific Affairs at the time. The court will hear the defendants later in the proceedings, reports said.

The scandal erupted during the final days of the administration of former President Chen Shui-bian in 2008, and led to the resignation of Huang and of Vice Premier Chiou I-jen, who had been at the origin of the idea to mobilize diplomatic brokers when he was secretary-general of the National Security Council.

Both men were later also impeached by the Control Yuan, the top government watchdog body. Huang and Chiou insisted they were trying to improve Taiwan’s international standing and were not after personal enrichment through the deal. Prosecutors are reportedly still investigating allegations of corruption by Taiwanese officials in the deal.

Taiwan and China have long tried to take away each other’s diplomatic allies in what some critics described as “dollar diplomacy.”

Undersea quake hits off Papua New Guinea

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Papua New Guinea's Bougainville island on Tuesday, but there were no reports of damage or sea level changes.

The quake's epicenter was 78 miles (125 km) west of Arawa on Bougainville at a depth of 46.4 miles (75 km), the U.S. Geological Survey said in Washington on Monday.

"We have not received any reports from Bougainville," said a spokesman for the Papua New Guinea National Disaster Emergency Services in the capital, Port Moresby.

Magnitude 6 quakes are capable of causing severe damage and, if shallow enough, localised tsunamis, but are relatively common in Papua New Guinea, which lies on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of intense seismic activity.

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