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PNG Post-Courier

The Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, John Feakes, has become the first foreign diplomat to visit the “valley of tears” in Wapenamanda, Enga, province.

Feakes braved fears of tribal warfare when he visited Australian government-funded projects at a tribal fighting zone on Wednesday.

The battlefields of Middle Lai, where more than 60 men lost their lives, fell silent after the signing of the landmark Hilton Peace Agreement last month in Port Moresby between the warring alliances.

The purpose of the Feakes tour was to visit Australian government-funded projects and one of those is the multimillion kina Huli Open Polytechnical Institute which is still under construction and is situated in the deserted fighting zone.

A few metres away from the perimeter fence, a pile of dead bodies had been loaded on police trucks that caught world news media headlines.

Feakes walked on the soil and chose Enga as his first to visit out of Port Moresby into the volatile Upper Highlands region.

His visit in this part of the region gives confidence to the international community and the general public that the Enga province still exists despite negative reports on tribal conflicts.

Education funding
The Australian diplomat’s government has invested substantial funding in the province, essentially in education.

The Feakes tour to the project sites is to strengthen that Australian and Papua New Guinea relationship and to remain as a strong partner in promoting development aspirations in the country.

“My visit is to give confidence to the international community that the [Enga] province is not as bad as they may think when seeing reports in the media,” he said.

“Every community has its share of problems and Enga province is no different.”

Feakes and his first secretary, Tom Battams, visited more than five Australian government-funded projects after they were received by local traditional dancers, Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas, Provincial Administrator Sandis Tsaka, provincial assembly members, senior public servants and the general public at the Kumul Boomgate near the provincial border of Western Highlands and Enga provinces.

The projects visited were: Kumul Lodge, Mukuramanda Jail, Hela-Opena Technical College at Akom, Innovative University of Enga-Education Faculty Irelya campus and Wabag market.

A lot of bull exchanges and alleged killing of people took place recently near Hela Open-Technical College during the tribal conflict between Palinau and Yopo alliances but nothing happened on Wednesday as Feakes and the delegation drove through to visit the institution.

Convoy waved
Instead, villagers stood peacefully along the roadsides starting from Kuimanda to Akom (areas treated as trouble zones) waving at the convoy of vehicles escorting the high commissioner.

Such gestures was described by many, including Tsak Local Level Government Council President Thomas Lawai and Provincial Law and Order director Nelson Leia, as a sign that the people were preparing to restore lasting peace in the affected areas.

Feakes also had the opportunity to talk to students at IUE campus where he told them to study hard to become meaningful contributors to growth of the country

Feakes was also visiting the new Enga Provincial Hospital, Enga College of Nursing, Enga Cultural Centre, Wabag Amphitheatre and Ipatas centre yesterday before returning to Port Moresby.

Republished with permission.

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