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PM blames ‘thugs’ for student killing

Tuesday 28 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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Government considers a state of emergency

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has extended the nation’s condolences following the weekend death of a student at the hands of what he called “thugs”.

The man died after being attacked in his Lae University of Technology (Unitech) dormitory on Saturday night about 10.00pm by a group armed with bush knives, who subsequently burned several cars and buildings.

The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Albert Schram, said investigations were underway.

“As far as we can gather from oral evidence so far, it was a mixed group with outsiders and possibly some students,” he said.

“It was dark, so positive identifications are not easy, and we have to wait for the results of the investigation.”

Papua New Guinea university students had begun fighting among themselves over whether to continue a class boycott to protest against government corruption.

Among the buildings destroyed or substantially damaged were the Student Representative Council residence – the SRC being among the protest leaders – and the campus mess facility.

Students are being evacuated from the Lae Unitech campus, Schram said, as the mess facility will be out of operation for some time and students cannot be fed.

O’Neill said Cabinet would discuss imposing a curfew on campuses to ensure safety, and a government team would travel to PNG’s second largest city immediately to assess the situation.

“The thugs responsible will be identified by police and they will be charged,” he told local EMTV News.

“It is believed there were people involved from outside the campus, and police will follow every lead in this case.

“If there were students involved, regardless of how much or how little they were involved, they are clearly not fit to be in our tertiary education system.”

Papua New Guinea university students have been boycotting classes since May as a means of protesting against O’Neill’s refusal to step down amid corruption allegations.

Education Minister Malakai Tabar told the PNG Loop website on Sunday that the government was determining whether to declare a state of emergency on Port Moresby’s UPNG and Lae Unitech’s campuses.

Opposition leader Don Polye told the ABC the latest violent incidents were part of long-running student unrest, and O’Neill was to blame for that.

“You do not run a country by suppression and subjugation of a people,” he said.

“Students and the public at large have been petitioning the prime minister to address certain issues, and his government and himself have refused and become arrogant.”

Another opposition politician has demanded the recall of the country’s parliament after its closure following the students’ shooting on June 10.

Oro Province Governor Gary Juffa said politicians could no longer ignore what was happening and must debate urgent issues that threaten PNG’s national security.

More on Papua New Guinea’s student crisis on next page.

- PNC sources