The government of Papua New Guinea has deployed about 300 armed troops into Hela province in the Southern Highlands to contain and stop gun violence near the ExxonMobil Corp.-led PNG-LNG project.
The soldiers, along with a police contingent, have moved into the area in response to an escalation of tribal violence that has resulted in a number of killings in recent months.
Police initially raised concerns about a build-up of high-powered guns in the region, but the call out is also aimed at securing the LNG project gas processing facilities centered on Hides field which have been subjected to disruptions, blockades, and incursions by disgruntled landowners since about mid-2016.
Government Chief Sec. Isaac Lupari said the security operation was planned to stabilize the province. He admitted that there is a law and order problem in Hela region with services like health and education being affected. But he also said the security of the PNG-LNG project was a critical aim of the deployment.
“The project supports the economy and employs thousands of Papua New Guineans, so restoration of law and order is vital,” Lupari said.
The troop and police operation is running in parallel with an amnesty on illegal firearms.
At the root of the landholders’ protests is the fact that they are still waiting for royalties, levies, and dividends to be paid with some claiming that the national government is not honoring the original project agreement.
However the government counters this by saying payments have been held up because some landowners obtained a court order preventing the ongoing identification of beneficiaries.
At this stage, production from the PNG-LNG project has not been affected.