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University violence proliferates in PNG

Wednesday 15 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Tensions have boiled over among students at universities in Papua New Guinea amid differences over whether to continue boycotting classes.

Student clashes at the University of Technology in Lae, Morobe Province, and University of Goroka in Eastern Highlands Province, have resulted in scores of injured taken to hospital for emergency treatment.

The fights have been linked to debate among students about whether to return to classes or continue their boycott that has been going on since last month.

At Unitech in Lae, a third year computer science student from Enga Province sustained life-threatening injuries after he was slashed on the head and legs with a bush knife by rival students.

In Goroka, 20 were injured during an early morning clash between two Highlands students’ factions which later spilled onto the main town streets resulting in mayhem and destruction of property and goods at the central market.

Shops, banks, the provincial Yanepa building and parts of the Highlands Highway were forced to close all day.

Lae Metropolitan Commander Chief Superintendent Anthony Wagambie is asking the students, relatives and the general public not to take sides or enter the campus.

Wagambie confirmed that Richard Tumo, a third year computer science student from Wapenamanda district, was in a stable condition and recovering at a private hospital in Lae.

A student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the Engan student body has called for calm and asked Tumo’s relatives not to come on campus to retaliate and that the matter will be solved on the campus.

He said that one group of students were armed with bush knives and some are alleged to be in possession of firearms smuggled into the campus.

He said Tumo was fleeing towards the administration block when he was attacked, the knife was swung at his neck but he ducked and he was cut in the head, and chopped on his calf.

“He fell to the ground and the attackers fled,” said the student.

The situation on Unitech’s Taraka campus remains tense.

The unrest is a spillover of protest action by students around PNG in their demand for the prime minister Peter O’Neill to resign.

PNG Loop reported that police used teargas in their attempts to control the large student skirmishes.

Shops, offices and schools around Goroka were closed as a result of the fighting, with police saying they are monitoring the situation.

It’s increasingly clear that last week’s shootings at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby have created general unrest and complicated efforts by other tertiary institutions to get students back to class.

Dozens were hospitalised, including four in a critical condition, after police opened fire on students at the UPNG’s Waigani campus last week when they tried to march to parliament to support a planned vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Public outrage over the unrest is significant and appears to be spreading through PNG’s student populations.

Unitech’s vice chancellor Albert Schram said he hoped students would return to class this week because time is running out to salvage the academic year.

“We have a signed agreement by the students representative council and all the associations that they would return to classes today,” he explained. “But because of the incident last week in Port Moresby the dynamic has changed so much.”

“We do however believe that there is a large group of students who understand and have had enough now of the boycott, and want to go back to classes. So we hope sanity will prevail.”

Unitech’s management as well as police authorities in Lae had been widely praised for their handling of the students’ actions since last month, allowing peaceful gatherings and public fora.

This is in stark contrast to Port Moresby where police have taken a hardline stand on student rallies, culminating in last Wednesday’s unrest.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader Don Polye has called for an independent inquiry into the police actions at the UPNG’s Waigani campus.

Polye, who has visited a number of injured students who are in hospital after being shot, said it was unacceptable for police to fire on unarmed citizens.

The UPNG had called for the main student body to return to class at the Port Moresby campuses today.

Reports from the capital indicate most students have stayed away. Student Council’s president Kenneth Rapa said few students are willing to venture back to the campus after the trauma of being shot at last Wednesday. - PNC sources