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This is the Courier-Mail (Brisbane) page 11 "Features" article "Capital Punishment"

published 19th March 2002, reporter: John Wright

( a reasonable accurate expose of today's Port Moresby. my thanks to Iain Millar for the following typed version of the original article posted as a jpg image)

High above Port Moresby, on Touaguba Hill, where the Prime Minister lives, Buai sits on his perch and waits for intruders. If one comes, if any stranger gets through the locked gates, the razor wire, the 24-hour security guard and the steel bars on the doors and windows Buai does what comes naurally to a parrot mimicking life in the Papua New Guinean capital; he screeches a perfect imitation of a burglar alarm.

This isn't the last line of defense. At night, when Moresby's raskol gangs are abroad with robbery and violence in their hearts, Buai's owners creep into bedrooms sealed off from the rest of the apartment by a set of heavy steel gates. They call it the rape cage.

"A lot of expatriates up here insist on them," a Moresby-based Australian acquaintance said. "If these people come in and want to knock off your television or video they're welcome to them. But they won't get you if you're behind a cage."

The paranoia about personal safety among many expatriates in Port Moresby - a city recently described as the second most dangerous in the world after Bogota, Colombia - is very real, and they will take any number of precautions to protect themselves.

Some foreigners, unable to get pistol licences, are now carrying flare guns - emergency aerial flares which don't need a licence but which will burn their way through any attacker at 3000-candle power. Bulletproof screens and bullbars on the car are another option. "If there's a roadblock at night, I know exactly what I'm going to do," the Australian said, "I'm going to put my foot down and go through them. If I have to, I'll put some flares into them."

In most cities of the world, let alone a national capital on Australia's doorstep, a statement like this might seem surreal. But fear breeds fear and newcomers to Port Moresby arrive with a sense of foreboding. There are an estimated 6000-7000 Australians in the country.

The Australian High Commission's residential compound in Moresby known disparagingly among private sector expatriates as "Fortress Shit Scared" sets the tone. The compound and its recreational facilities is a huge walled enclosure protected by razor wire and other high security installations.

Some long-time expatriate residents consider the compound and the behaviour of its occupants ludicrous. They say the risks involved with living in Moresby are calculated, and the dangers exaggerated. This might be true, but it is a different story for most of the city's 300,000-plus residents who can't afford to live behind razor wire and bulletproof glass.

This month, a local doctor driving home at night with his two daughters, 13 and 11, from Port Moresby International Airport was stopped on a suburban road by a gang at a roadblock. Even by PNG standards, what followed was unspeakable.

The man was shot and badly wounded, the younger girl was slashed with a machete and her older sister, dragged screaming from her father's arms, was abducted and pack-raped. Police believe up to 10 men were involved in the attack. The father and raped daughter are still in hospital.

Random, violent crimes like this by Papua New Guineans against their own people have become a feature of the country's descent into economic chaos and lawlessness since it gained independence from its colonial administrator, Australia, in 1975.

They are now common in Moresby, in Lae and other large PNG cities, but often are overshadowed by crimes against expatriates which command greater media attention.

A few days before the attack on the doctor's family, an 18-year-old American - a trainee missionary - was pack-raped in the Eastern Highlands. Another woman was raped in front of her children, in a churchyard.

These attacks, among a string of recent cases in a country where victims of sexual assault run a terrifyingly high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, provoked renewed calls for capital punishment.

"Serious crimes such as rape and murder seem to be a normal thing nowadays," lamented a Lae man who wrote to the Moresby-based Post-Courier advocating the death penalty. "What are we waiting for? How much more do we need to see?"

According to an Australian National University study, in 1997 the per capita rate for violent crime in PNG was 10 times that in Australia and was costing the country an estimated 5 per cent of its GDP.

The study revealed that rampant property and personal crime, including armed robbery, rape and murder, was so prevalent an "industry" in centres including Port Moresby that it accounted for 15 per cent of all urban employment.

Five years later, fed by continuing urban drift from rural centres, mass unemployment and the lack of social safety nets, crime is spiraling to a point where the authorities have no control over it.

In Port Moresby, described in the 1990's by one respected PNG watcher as "a civic slum ruled by gangsters", the unemployment rate, among a population that is probably much higher than its official 300,000, is estimated at 80 per cent.

About half the population lives in 74 so-called squatter settlements, only 26 of which were planned as living areas with access to water, electricity and public health services.

Many of the people in the unplanned settlements live in squalor, reflected on a general level by the city's graffiti-plastered, garbage-strewn streets.

"We are now faced with an entire generation of youth between the age of 13 and 27 who have been born and bred in these squatter settlements and have lost all contact with village life, ways and customs," wrote Port Moresby City Mission executive director Larry George recently.

"The majority have had little or no education and their chances of gaining some form of employment are extremely limited. In order to survive many of these youths are being forced to join criminal gangs and embark on a life of crime."

"Young girls are turning to prostitution and this further increases the danger of AIDS which is increasing at an alarming rate across the country. PNG has, for some time now, been like a time bomb waiting to go off."

Ranged against this, in a war that is being slowly and inexorably lost, is a police force, which is inept, poorly trained and equipped, underpaid, disgruntled and open to bribery and pressure from political forces and criminally inclined wantoks (extended family members).

Business people say police have been known to accept as little as 50 kina to bash suspected or apprehended criminals or 400 kina to get rid of them permanently.

Violent criminals who go through arrest and the remand process are frequently granted bail and remain at large for months, if not years, because the judicial system cannot cope with them.

The effect on the vast majority of PNG's law-abiding people, especially those who have been victims of the country's security and law-and-order breakdown, has been profound. The sense of despair as well as danger in Port Moresby especially, is almost palpable.

"The police are good for chewing betel nut and they are good for picking up their wantoks but not for doing their job," a local tour guide said. "They are drinking at night-time; they are taking large bribes. This type of thing is putting us down. Why aren't they arresting the criminals?"

The question is a cry from the heart and every Australian taxpayer has a stake in the answer. Canberra this year is pumping $343 million into PNG in bilateral and multilateral aid, a significant proportion of which has or will be spent on training police, "promoting the rule of law" and strengthening governance.

This isn't new and it isn't working. Twenty-seven years after independence and an Australian input of billions of dollars, PNG's people remain among the world's most disadvantaged.

The Post-Courier newspaper editorialised recently that violent crime in PNG had reached alarming proportions, was a major deterrent to foreign investment and tourism and needed urgent government action and funding to address the problem. "It is time for the Government to do a stocktake of its priorities," it said.

A few weeks previously, an American woman who was mugged, bashed and robbed in broad daylight in Port Moresby had a similar complaint. "A place that is so unsafe must rethink its priorities and elect leaders who put the basic needs and rights of their people before anything else." she said.

PNG faces a national election in a few months' time.

No one in Port Moresby expects the cry to be heard.


Buai = Pidgin for betel nut

raskol = Pidgin for criminal gang member

wantoks = Pidgin for extended family or even clan members (literally "he speaks my language")

kina = principal currency of PNG - 1 kina = A$0-51 or 1 A$ = 1.97 kina

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