Kulunga: police brutality targetting anti-logging villagers to be investigated
Forestry product exports were K186.7 million in the first quarter of this year and accounted for 4.6 percent
of Papua New Guinea's total export merchandise according to the Bank of Papua New Guinea
Investigations have begun in Papua New Guinea into reports police assaulted villagers for suing a subsidiary of Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH).
The inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed by Port Moresby-based non-government organisation Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF). The alleged police-led assault occurred in Pomio district in the East New Britain province.
PNG acting police commissioner Tom Kulunga confirmed receiving a letter from EFF chair Kenn Mondiai and advised that he has directed acting deputy police commissioner Fred Yakasa to lead the investigations.
“These allegations are very serious and will have to be properly investigated. Rest assured that if the policemen have acted beyond their powers then they will be appropriately dealt with,” he said in a statement released this evening.
The allegations were also raised in PNG social media networks over the weekend with Papua New Guineans condemned police action and demanding an end to logging in PNG. Papua New Guinea Issues in Perspective also raised the issue with police as well as RH; however the logging giant is yet to respond.
Mr Mondiai wrote in his letter that police personnel based at the Drina logging camp in Pomio allegedly assaulted local landowners who were critical of the activities of RH subsidiary Gilford Limited.
He said the incident occurred between Monday 3 October and (Thursday) 6 October, when policemen travelled to the Bairiman and Totongpal villages in West Pomio, and allegedly harassed and arrested youth while searching for a Paul Palosualrea and a Jacob Samo.
Villagers from the west Pomio area including Bairiman staged a peaceful protest in August against plans to build an oil palm plantation on their traditional land. Mr Samo and Mr Palosualrea are principle plaintiffs in a case against RH and the PNG government in the National Court as well as the commission of inquiry into the controversial awarding of land under the PNG government’s special agricultural business leases (SABL).
“This is a classic case of a perverse notion to live above the rule of law and an intention to suppress the rights of the local peoples and should not be tolerated in this country. We therefore call for immediate action to stop this unlawful behaviour of your policemen,” Mr Mondiai added.
Former PNG acting Prime Minister Sam Abal suspended the SABL program in July and commissioned an inquiry into how the leases were granted and their impact on the environment and the landowners.
Licenses issued under the SABL program, an initiative of the then Somare government, attracted the attention of the UN Human Rights Commission in March this year. The UN said it was concerned that the government did not seek the consent of the landowners before granting leases to developers.