PNG Raskols v AFP

REPORTER: David O’Shea

It’s an average day in Kaugere, the oldest squatter settlement in Port Moresby.

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These betting machines are supposed to be illegal, but the police rarely venture into Kaugere. Instead, the settlement is run by the biggest raskol gang in the capital – the Koboni or devils. Koboni leader Alan Omara is a hardened criminal, he’s already served time for armed robbery.

ALAN OMARA, KOBONI LEADER: This place is one of the notorious places in PNG.

REPORTER: It doesn’t seem very dangerous to me? Because people tell you, you know, Papua New Guinea is very dangerous. It doesn’t seem so dangerous.

ALAN OMARA: It is dangerous.

REPORTER: It is?

ALAN OMARA: At times, yes. Now you guys are here, I think they respect you guys, the white people now, they are hiding.

REPORTER: They are hiding? Who is hiding?

ALAN OMARA: The boys, the boys.

ANDY: Some weekends like this you can come in here and observe by yourself or witness by yourself, that you can see boys, youths from this area, they go out, they steal vehicle, they go rob some stores, they drive in like this. The place, the very place you are standing, they just drive in with the police shooting them at the back.

Crime is an integral part of the local economy. In Kaugere, almost everyone is unemployed. Virtually the only money coming in is from raskol crime.

ANDY: Four of us go out for robbery, we come back then we share is through all of us, because that’s the only means of survival.

REPORTER: Do you think there’s something wrong with doing that?

ANDY: The Government and the law says that’s wrong, but we can push it back to the Government, you know, because the Government doesn’t care for us, that’s why we are stealing.

In Kaugere, a settlement of several thousand, around 500 are members of Alan’s gang, the Koboni. This job skills centre was opened by His Royal Highness Prince Charles of England and Papua New Guinea, but now Alan’s gang has taken it over as its clubhouse.

ALAN OMARA: When there’s big robbery we come into the community maybe we gave 10-20 kina to the relatives to buy rice and tinned fish for a day to make them happy.

REPORTER: Some of the money does get spread around to…

ALAN OMARA: In the community, school fees or…

ROCKY: People come and borrow. From the robbery money, and then the loan they pay back bit by bit.

As well as dealing in marijuana, another line of work for Alan’s gang is contract hits, doing the dirty work of politicians and businessmen. They are waiting right now for word on a job they’ve been asked to do, to teach someone a lesson.

REPORTER: This job, is it to beat someone up a little bit or a lot or?

ALAN OMARA: Some to be beaten badly.

REPORTER: Badly?

ALAN OMARA: Break his leg or…

REPORTER: How do you feel about having to do that, is that a problem?

ALAN OMARA: I think it’s a problem, but money. Times are tough nowadays, we need money to survive.

No-one is untouchable. Everyone, including foreigners, have their price.

ALAN OMARA: We bash him up or break his legs or fight him to get him out of the country.

REPORTER: Have you been approached about teaching any white men a lesson?

ALAN OMARA: Not lately, not lately.

REPORTER: What about when the Australian police arrive, I mean, it’s not going to be so easy driving around Port Moresby breaking people’s legs?

ALAN OMARA: Oh well, most of the guys will be lying low until wait and see. Everyone will be keeping their mouth shut, lying low, until they go out of the country.

ROCKY: If they can be smart, then some of the guys in Morseby, the raskols, they can be smarter. Their presence will be there but there is going to be robberies.

It’s in the heart of raskol-run settlements like Kaugere, that the Australian police will have to confront PNG’s chronic law and order problem.

FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER: I support the idea that Australians come back and help us. It’s the right time now, before things gets even worse. Australia should come back.

REPORTER: What do you do?

FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER: Me? I’m an ex-high school teacher, OK, and I’ve just given up because there’s no hope in this profession.

REPORTER: Why?

FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER: Well, what do I get from them? Nothing! I’ve been just suffering, I’ve been losing my voice for too long. I’m not paid for what I do, you know. I’ve been teaching for over 17 years, and what do I own? Nothing, because I am not paid. I am not paid according to what deserve.

REPORTER: So you just gave up?

FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER: I gave up, there’s no hope in it. Here I am at Kaugere.

REPORTER: Doing what now?

FORMER SCHOOL TEACHER: Nothing! Selling this. Selling, sitting beside these people here and I beg.

PNG’s Police Minister recognises the urgent need for assistance from outside. For him, it’s an opportunity to boost his under-resourced force.

MR. BIRE KIMISOPA, P.N.G. POLICE MINISTER : Australia is suggesting, is proposing not suggesting, proposing this assistance package to PNG, and here we are in government. The indicators in this country are not good. We know we’ve got to do something right. It’s a generous package of assistance, more importantly to the PNG police force and within that package of assistance to the PNG government, we have an opportunity to recruit additional 400 men and women to serve the PNG police force. More importantly, we an opportunity to invest in infrastructure and logistics of the police force. More importantly, I might add, we have a position to reintroduce the Highlands highway patrol again that we lost in the last five years because of our Government’s inability to continue to fund it.

One of the key aims of the Australian contingent will be policing this crucial highway – the economic lifeline of the country. It’s the link between the fertile and resource-rich New Guinea Highlands to the Papuan coast. I’m with what’s left of the Highlands highway patrol. These police can only operate today because I paid for the petrol.

POLICEMAN: This place, it is a dangerous place, not a good place, a hold-up place.

When on patrol, these policemen deal with extraordinary situations. Last week, for example, traditional landowners set road-blocks after repairing the highway and demanded a toll for allowing vehicles to pass.

POLICEMAN: 50 kina from every vehicle.

REPORTER: So every vehicle that came past had to pay the local villages?

POLICEMAN: 50 kina. Just to pass through because they cleared the road.

REPORTER: Is that legal? Can they demand that money?

POLICEMAN: It is illegal, but where is the works department?

They say that Government assistance and maintenance on this vital road is rare. Landslides are common.

POLICEMAN: I think this is the 11th day, 11th day after the…? 11th day after this… And? No assistance.

REPORTER: Still no assistance from the Government?

POLICEMAN: No, no, no.

From landsides to armed hold-ups, to never-ending tribal warfare, this road passes through dangerous territory. Australian police assigned to the Highlands beat will have to be tough operators. Up here police say there is only one way to deal with people.

DRIVER: Most times we take physical action to clamp down this law and order problem. We talk and there is no action, you see, people don’t understand. Only one shotgun there. Only one shotgun there.

REPORTER: One shotgun between four?

DRIVER: And they are armed with M16s. Holding up highway trucks, PMVs, whatever.

REPORTER: Are you sometimes afraid to come here?

POLICEMAN: Yeah, sometimes because, like I said earlier on, we have only a shotgun and a pistol up against three or four high-powered. I am not a robocop.

The police on the ground here are desperate for the Australians to come and help them.

REPORTER: Do you think the job is too big or is it possible to…?

POLICEMAN: It’s possible, it is possible. It is possible. Oh, yeah. Hell no, we start from the top, I am 100% very happy that they will bring in morale for the police, law and order.

In the towns, crime is out of control. The day before we arrive in the Highlands, an Australian pilot was robbed and shot dead in broad daylight in the main street of the biggest town, Mt Hagen. The plainclothes officer in charge of the case showed me the scene of the crime.

OFFICER: He did his banking up there at the corner there. Yeah. He was driving down and he was shot here. Right here.

The murder weapon had been taken from the crime scene and has only just been handed in. It’s a semi-automatic Glock pistol.

OFFICER: There are all kinds of weapons floating around in the Highlands from homemade up to sophisticated factory-made.

COMMANDER ALFRED REU: Murders and incidents of a similar nature have occurred in this town before. In the main street of this town before. We are treating it as just another case.

The overworked commander of the five provinces in the highlands region is Alfred Reu.

COMMANDER REU: We may be down, but not out. But I think some little push from our big brothers Down Under would really push the morale of our men and the capacity building we are looking for I think we can work together.

When the assistance package is finalised, Commander Reu understands that 41 Australian policemen will be assigned to his patch. To him, that’s great news.

COMMANDER REU: We look to Australia as our big brother. Australian police, this will not be the first time that they be here. We still have Australian police here as advisors, but this new program they will be coming on line positions so I think it’s going to be good, yes. The biggest and the most difficult one that we are trying to cope with is the tribal fights. In the past, people used bows and arrows. But today guns have been used.

MR.BIRE KIMISOPA: No-one in this country expects Australian Federal Police to be sitting in the middle of a tribal fight. It’s ludicrous.

COMMANDER REU: When they arrive here there’s not enough of them to go into tribal fights and to stop tribal fights, That is something that is here to stay and it will stay with us.

It’s this clash of tribal allegiance and modern notions of crime that will prove most difficult for Australian police. Back in Port Moresby two months ago a coastal woman from Kaugere was bludgeoned to death by a drunken highlander, it was a senseless killing by a known troublemaker. He was beaten up and is now awaiting trial. But that same day, Alan Omara and his boys ordered the Highlander’s stores in Kaugere to be burned and their pigs and their ducks killed.

ALAN OMARA: We told the southern highlanders not to come back and settle down here after this incident. This place used to be a dangerous place, if I can say that, always drinking, trouble, fighting especially with the southern highlanders, so after this murder the community got together and told the community I think it’s best that we get rid of these people. So I mobilised the boys. Best thing we can do is just burn down their house and chuck them out of their community.

Two months later, there’s a problem brewing. In PNG, resolution is not left to the courts. The victim’s family demand their traditional right to compensation. In this case, around A$50,000. But the murderer’s family counterclaims for damages to the stores that Alan’s boys torched.

ALAN OMARA: What they are saying is you pay us for the shops, the two trade stores you burned down and we will compensate. What the southern highlanders are trying to do, the whole picture, the southern highlanders are on the wrong side of the whole picture. Most of the trouble, the murder, the rape that was done down here is by highlanders when they get pissed, drunk, maybe high on marijuana then these sort of killings happen. Unnecessary killing, without reason.

It’s clear the possibility of ethnic violence between local townspeople and the Highlanders migrating to Port Moresby is an emerging problem.

BIRE KIMISOPA: You have a lot more Papua New Guineans migrating to the towns, thinking they will get better services, better employment opportunities and subsequently, they bring their culture values and tradition with them and in an environment such as this, if you have one small problem, a marital problem or a drunken brawl, it has the potential to turn into an ethnic clash or ethnic problem of that scale.

Pastor Daniel from the Highlands, is acting as negotiator for the murderer’s side. He say’s a recent ethnic clash that began as a small incident brought the city to a standstill.

PASTOR DANIEL: Just because of that one particular incident happen in that suburb, all over the city these two ethnic groups clash all over.

REPORTER: So when will the compensation be paid, then?

PASTOR DANIEL: That, I don’t know. They’ve given a time frame, but that has expired.

He says the current case will only be resolved if the murderer’s family sticks to their traditional obligations.

PASTOR DANIEL: I am praying that there will be no trouble. The family that have assured the victim’s family they have to come up in good time and stand to their word. And do come up with the commitment that they said they’d take, like they said they’d pay 6,000, well, they have to come up with that, especially to send a body home and meet other expenses. By doing that, I see that there will be peace, but if that is not met, then likely trouble will ignite again, will come on.

The victim’s relatives finally had to scrape the money together themselves to pay for the burial, leaving the compensation claims unresolved. Alan Omara now openly predicts clashes.

ALAN OMARA: It will definitely happen because there are a lot of killings going on, like I said earlier. So anything that comes up again, the same situation, maybe we’ll take up arms and fight against these people. We are fed up already. It’s the same thing going around in the other settlements.

The possibility of an ethnic war in Port Moresby makes the arrival of the Australian police even more urgent. But the deployment remains a sensitive political issue here, with one provincial governor claiming it breeches PNG’s sovereignty.

PNG GOVERNOR LUTHER WENGE: We need to worry about our pride. Because this country… What I’m worried about… You know, sovereignty of this country. This is not a colony of Australia any more. Sorry if you are offended. No, this is not a colony it’s an independent state of Papua New Guinea. You have to be conscious and respect the sovereignty of this county.

On the announcement of the Australian intervention package, Governor Luther Wenge called for the expulsion of all Australians from his Morobe province. He’s now backed down from that demand but still insists that the deployment should be approved by PNG’s parliament.

GOVERNOR WENGE: Whatever the package in relation to Australian aid, and if Australia thinks there is a big law and order problem here, those should be presented in the floor of the parliament. It’s not something belonging to Rabi Namiliu or Somare or what’s his name – Alexander Downer or Mr Porter. You see I’m the elected leader on the ground. I know what’s on the ground so much as the leaders and if Australia is coming to help as our friends, then let the Australians through our foreign minister place it before the floor of parliament, then let’s have that debate.

The current sticking point is the Australian demand for immunity from PNG laws for its policemen. But both governments are confident that this issue can be resolved when it comes before PNG’s parliament around June.

SENATOR RABBY: We have had a lot of discussion at the official level and at the political level because both sides recognise the fact that we want to see this program move forward and we have to figure out a way that addresses the problems on both sides and come up with a solution that satisfies both sides to their mutual satisfaction.

Whatever the politicians decide, on the ground, the mood is overwhelmingly in favour of Australian intervention. Even Alan Omara, leader of the biggest raskol gang now thinks the only solution is to bring in the Australian police.

ALAN OMARA: The Australian police can do a much better job than a policemen here in this country, Papua New Guinea

REPORTER: Why, because they are not connected to any one ethnic group?

ALAN OMARA: He’s not from Papua New Guinea, he’s not from highland or Gulf. I know a white man can really do a job better than a local policemen can do.