Seventeen people have been killed, hundreds of families were made homeless, dozens of houses razed and Papua New Guinea government services ground to a halt in Enga Province’s Porgera district as warring clans took up arms against each other and calls for government help went unanswered on the weekend.
Police in Porgera said the number of deaths have shot up to 17 in the last 72 hours as fighting continues.
The sounds of gunfire could be heard as all government assets including the Porgera mine staff remain locked behind their homes and gates.
An employee of the mine said the sounds of gunfire could be heard on Sunday evening with war cries echoing throughout the town centre of Paiam.
The fresh violence, which got worse following the withdrawal of security personnel to provincial capital Wabag to prepare for election duties, ended a fragile, two-month peace truce between the warring Nomali and Aiyala clans of Paiam in Porgera.
The sitting MP of Lagaip-Porgera, Tomait Kapili, said the ongoing feud between two clans also means the planned reopening of the world class Porgera mine is “slim” and “may not happen within the timeframe wanted by the government”.
Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas was disappointed with the inaction by the PNG Defence Force and police hierarchy.
“I have been asking for security forces for the last three weeks,” a frustrated Sir Peter said.
He confirmed with the Post-Courier that Prime Minister James Marape had been informed of the situation in Porgera.
Police Commissioner David Manning said that the violence erupted after a man from the Nomali clan was chopped on his hand by a man from Aiyala.
On Tuesday last week a security guard was attacked and slashed, dying of his injuries in front of the shop he was protecting.
The killing of the guard saw a confrontation flare up, which led to police firing several shots to deter the two clans.
In retaliation, the Nomali clan chopped the hand of a man from Aiyala on Friday morning.
“A fight broke out, with Mobile Squad 11 who were on mine operation in Porgera taking command of the township but were outnumbered by tribal fighters who were in possession of high powered firearms,” Mr Manning said. “The two clans have destroyed properties.”
On Saturday, battle lines were drawn as the two warring clans faced off in the streets of the Paiam.
Continuous gunshots could be heard as both clans continue a feud that escalated to the burning of several homes belonging to settlers around the mining town.
The confrontation continued with the withdrawal of police units back to Wabag to await further orders to be deployed into other provinces of the Highlands region.
The withdrawal led to a fierce confrontation between the two clans that saw more than 50 people injured, homes destroyed and the Paiam town centre coming to a standstill as local police could only standby and watch the removal of properties from homes as the two clans ruled the streets of the township.
Police Mobile Squad 5 was supposed to be in Enga, however, it is understood they have yet to receive their deployment orders.
According to a source, new PNGDF soldiers have been tasked to go into Enga, but their insertion has been delayed given that the National Government did not settle outstanding debts for service providers and troops.
Porgera remains without any security support, with reports that local police, who are grossly outnumbered and without support, were exhausted and could not do much.
Sources in Paiam also indicated that the Paiam district hospital was still operating but staff are scared because of the lack of security, and were only taking in emergency cases.
A medical officer said casualties from the tribal conflict were not taken to the hospital due to security fears.
He said the hospital has not been targeted by the clans but buildings around the hospital grounds have been razed to the ground.
In developments late Sunday at around 5pm, more than 15 ten-seater vehicles with PNGDF personnel arrived for deployment to Porgera.