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By Thierry Lepani and Miriam Zarriga in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea

The ugly side of Papua New Guinean elections has shown its face in the Western Highlands capital Mt Hagen with unknown suspects sabotaging one of the busiest airports in the country to protest against the appointment of electoral officials.

Using the cover of darkness yesterday, the suspects poured oil on the Kagamuga International Airport tarmac to disrupt flights, prompting the provincial police commander to describe it as an “act of terrorism”.

Chief Superintendent Joe Puri said the incident showed what people were capable of when they were frustrated.

“However, it does not give anyone the right to hold the whole province to ransom,” he said.

“Three different factions of supporters of candidates are suspected of being involved in this latest sabotage of the airport.

“The persons responsible gained access through the back fence near the Mt Hagen golf course and got onto the tarmac where litres of engine oil was poured onto the tarmac.”

This started in protest over the appointment of the Hagen Open Returning Officer, with two factions contesting the appointment of the official in court.

Commercial flights cancelled
Commercial flights were cancelled yesterday following a protest over the electoral official’s appointment.

The protesting locals wanted Willie Ropa to be reinstated as Returning Officer for the Hagen Open electorate.

Ropa’s appointment was disputed in court by Hagen MP William Duma, who challenged the decision of the Electoral Commission in light of two conflicting gazette notices over the appointment of two ROs for Hagen — Ropa and Amos Noifa.

This incident and others in just three weeks of campaigning and nominations should not be taken lightly, as the instances will only grow if nothing is done quickly by the authorities.

Just over the weekend, the Returning Officer for Kompiam-Ambum Open, Enga Province, was shot and had to be hospitalised.

Last week, the convoy of a sitting Member of Parliament (Okapa MP Saki Soloma) was stopped and attacked leading to several vehicles being torched and destroyed.

At the same time, former Nipa-Kutubu MP and now a candidate for Southern Highlands Provincial, Philemon Embel also narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on his life when his vehicle was shot at in the province.

While these incidents have taken place mainly in the Highlands region, it is no secret the syndrome of violence can quickly spread to other centres in the country.

Last month Police Commissioner David Manning called on the nation to help deliver a free, fair and safe election. Police are now maintaining a 24 hour presence around the airport.

Thierry Lepani and Miriam Zarriga are PNG Post-Courier reporters. Republished with permission.

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