Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of a new gas field in the highlands of Papua New Guinea yesterday…the giant American corporation already operates a huge project in PNG that produces almost seven million tons of liquefied natural gas per year. But the government has just sent a combined force of troops and police into the area to control widespread fighting. More from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
The heart of the 19 billion dollar gas project is Hela Province, in the remote and rugged central highlands of Papua New Guinea. Exxon Mobil led the construction of a 435 mile pipeline to deliver the gas to a liquefication plant outside the capital, Port Morseby, where it’s loaded on ships bound for Japan, China and Taiwan.
The gas boom utterly transformed life in and around the tiny provincial capital of Tari; some locals hired on as security guards and construction workers, many others protest that the benefits promised by the government and the company never materialized.
Last month, a convoy carrying the governor of Hela province was attacked at a roadblock. One man was pulled from his car and shot, another man died in the subsequent shoot out. The next day, a mobile police unit raided a nearby village. Police said they burned a couple of houses to flush out suspects. A local Red Cross worker told Radio New Zealand that 200 houses were destroyed he also said that security police hired by Exxon Mobil participated in the reprisal raid. Exxon Mobil denies the charge.
Since then, what’s described as tribal fighting has overwhelmed local police in Tari; according to the Post Courier newspaper, schools and banks have closed, and many stay at home in fear for their safety. Now Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has authorized three and a half million dollars for a special force of troops and police to restore order.