25 Jun 2012

PNG's Hela province struggles with election violence

5:39 am on 25 June 2012

Despite a mostly trouble-free start to polling across Papua New Guinea in the country's general election, chaos has erupted in the newly created Hela province.

Hela, which as the hub of PNG's Liquefied Natural Gas project is hugely important to the country's economic growth, has struggled with violence and ballot crime over this critical weekend.

Johnny Blades reports from Port Moresby.

"Polling was meant to take place on one day only, Saturday, in Hela and neighbouring Southern Highlands province, mainly for security reasons. Police say the late arrival of electoral and security personnel to some polling stations in this region prompted authorities to extend polling into a second day. But many people in Hela didn't get to vote and eyewitness reports emerging say that thugs have violated the polling at will, stealing ballot boxes and voting papers, attacking supporters of rival candidates and burning down houses. While the buildup of illegal weapons in the region for the election was anticipated, it's unclear whether the police and security forces who have been deployed in large numbers to this region for the election have been unable to exert control."