2004 May 05 Wednesday
Australia To Send Police To Lawless Papua New Guinea

Since achieving independence from Australia in 1975 Papua New Guinea (PNG) has deterioriated and now law and order has broken down as government officials and police have become corrupt and the police are too poor to even do much patrolling.

From the Highlands capital of Mount Hagen still shocked by the recent, brutal, Sunday morning slaying of an Australian pilot to the wild west town of Mendi, the journey reflects the extent of the crime wave and general social crisis facing PNG. Here, many areas are reverting to violent tribalism, self-styled warlords are heavily armed and rampant corruption diverts practically all funding from essential services such as education and medical care.


The only reason the police can go out on patrol today is that The Age paid for the petrol. But local criminals, such as the three men wielding bush knives who, earlier in the day, had stopped a crowded ute and raped a young woman, know there is little chance of being apprehended.

Parts of the highway have deteriorated so badly that Shell has halted deliveries, thereby causing a fuel crisis. Mount Hagen trucking operator Andrew Rice warns his rigs are fine when moving but "as soon as the truck stops they are all over you; you are a sitting duck".

Australia is negotiating terms under which Australian police will be sent to PNG to attempt to restore some minimal semblance of order. One sticking point in the negotiations is whether Australian police will be immune to local prosecution. The Australian government quite reasonably fears that corrupt local police, prosecutors, and judges could falsify charges against the Australian policemen.

Life in PNG was better when Australia ruled the place.

Many Papua New Guineans harbour an ambivalent nostalgia for Australian colonialism, when "kiaps", white officers, patrolled their villages quelling tribal fights and heading off the ugly violence so prevalent today. Locals then believed the Australian officers possessed almost mystical powers (although the heavy-handed paternalism of some could sometimes dent the locals' nationalistic pride).

Today, gangs armed with military weapons terrorise and tax traffic on the Highlands highway, the economic lifeline serving the nation's major resource projects. Gang leaders boast they will shoot any police who dare to hunt them down.

The Australians expect their police will take casualties if they are sent to PNG.

As this report from the PNG island of New Ireland demonstrates PNG citizens are resorting to vigilante justice.

Locals who heard the shot chased the thieves and used a machete to hack the leg off one of the suspects, the newspapers quoted local police as saying.

The government of PNG doesn't like having a free press.

A group of parliamentarians of the ruling National Alliance presented a bill in April 2003 that threatened the freedom of journalists to cover the activities of the government and parliament. This attempt to establish the basis for a return to censorship was indicative of the contempt that part of the political class feels for the independent press. A campaign by journalists, by national and international press freedom organisations and by bodies such as the Press council forced the government to shelve the bill.

But Sir Michael Somara, the prime minister and a political heavyweight in Papua New Guinea since independence, said in November that he regretted not letting his supporters rein in the press. He accused foreign journalists and foreign-owned news media of damaging the country's image. Reporters Without Borders did not register any case of direct censorship in this country of independent print and broadcast media. But the weekly The Independent closed down for financial reasons. The Press Council tried to increase its power to sanction news media guilty of violating press ethics. And Australian journalists who came to cover the refugees which their government has installed in camps in Papua New Guinea were not made welcome.

Australia has already begun a similar operation in the Solomon Islands.

The larger powers fear that "failing" states may become havens for terrorists, people-smugglers and organised crime.

That was the motivation behind the Australian-led deployment of soldiers and police to the Solomon Islands last year, after a plea from Prime Minister Sir Allen Kemakeza.

There are places in the world that are incapable of self-rule...

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 05 10:45 AM  Civilizations Decay

John S Bolton said at May 6, 2004 2:33 AM:

Papua New Guinea has had this reputation for a long time, especially for having some of the highest murder rates in the world. That it could get worse there, is not reassuring; but especially not for rousseauvian and other egalitarian theories. The island of New Guinea is said to have 1,000 languages spoken; in this regard it is the diversity capital of the planet. How, then, if the official theory of diversity as a strengthening and value-raising quality has truth to it, can the high points of diversity be found together with the highest levels of aggression? Does valuing diversity mean also valuing freedom FOR aggression? The highlands of PNG were only contacted by civilization in the 1930's. It is the very lowest levels of civilization which allow for the highest levels of diversity (in this case, that of indigenous languages) to persist. Here, then, is a view of what might be expected from a wanton valuing of diversity.

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