Clan gun battles kill at least 17 near PNG gold mine: police
Published: 06:27 PM, 9 May 2022
Security forces moved in Monday to halt gun battles between rival Papua New Guinea (PNG) clans that police said have killed at least 17 people near a major gold mine in the rain forest-blanketed highlands.
Clans also torched buildings in the town of Paiam and nearby Porgera during the three days of fighting, according to police, who were backed by troop deployments in the volatile region.
Two mobile police units were “containing the situation in Porgera town and have moved into the mine site, too,” Police Commissioner David Manning told AFP on Monday.
The fighting began with attacks between members of the rival Aiyala and Nomali clans, Manning told Papua New Guinea’s Post-Courier newspaper.
On Saturday, the attacks escalated into a large confrontation between the clans in Paiam, with multiple shots fired and several homes torched, he said.
A mine employee told the paper that gunfire and war cries could be heard echoing through Paiam on Sunday evening.
At least 17 people were killed over the three days, according to police.
Four bodies have been taken to the morgue at Paiam District Hospital since the fighting began, medical superintendent Jerry Hoga told AFP.
Porgera is home to a large gold and silver mine currently in the midst of sensitive lease negotiations.
Delay to mining restart?
Joint Canadian-Chinese venture Barrick Niugini Ltd is seeking a 49-percent stake in the operation with a renegotiated lease.
The mine has been in “care and maintenance” for two years, Barrick Niugini said in a recent update, after the Papua New Government declined to renew its special mining lease in April 2020.
The government had reportedly been hoping for a full resumption of operations as soon as last month, but no official timetable has been announced.
Barrick Niugini said last month it had signed a shareholders’ agreement for the 49-percent stake but was still awaiting the signature of landowners.
Under the deal, parties in Papua New Guinea – including government nominee Kumul Mineral and landowner representative Mineral Resources Enga – would take the remaining 51 percent.
It was unclear if the violence would further delay the resumption of mining operations.
AFP contacted Barrick Niugini’s co-operator Canadian Barrick Gold seeking comment.
Tribal conflicts are a frequent occurrence in Papua New Guinea’s highlands, but an influx of automatic weapons has made clashes deadlier.
In 2019, at least 24 people – including two pregnant women and their unborn children – were killed in Hela province when highland clans clashed, apparently over control of local gold deposits in the region’s mineral-rich soil.