8 Aug 2007

PNG's National Alliance broadens coalition, violence hits highlands

3:16 pm on 8 August 2007

With five days before the new Papua New Guinea Parliament sits, Sir Michael Somare's National Alliance has boosted its coalition numbers to 69 of the 109 MPs.

It has signed up two more small parties, joining seven who committed to the NA at the weekend.

The latest to join are the People's National Congress which is headed by the Opposition Leader in the last Parliament, Peter O'Neill, and the People's Democratic Movement, the party of former Prime Minister, Paias Wingti.

In a surprise result Mr Wingti lost his Western Highlands provincial seat earlier this week when the preference vote went strongly against him.

Police and soldiers in the Western Highlands have exchanged gunfire with angry villagers who blocked roads and torched a truck following Mr Wingti's defeat.

A defence force officer has told local media that five young women travelling on the Highlands Highway were reportedly seized and raped by a group of men during the unrest.

Police moved in yesterday morning to clear a roadblock outside the provincial capital Mt Hagen, but they came under fire from armed villagers.

Reinforcements of soldiers and an army helicopter were sent in, but they too were fired on.

Soldiers returned fire from the ground and the air as they hunted down the gunmen.

Police say there have been no reports of casualties and no one had yet been arrested.