12 Sep 2013

Papua New Guinea's PM calls for death penalty for trek attackers

4:59 pm on 12 September 2013

Papua New Guinea's prime minister has condemned a brutal attack on a trekking group on Tuesday and says the people responsible will face the death penalty.

In the assault on Tuesday, two Papuan porters were hacked to death, and one New Zealand and several Australian walkers were injured during their trek in the remote Papua New Guinea highlands.

Preliminary police reports indicate that those suspected of being behind the attack are believed to be local villagers disgruntled that their people are not participating in the trekking venture.

Amelia Langford reports:

The attack took place in the nation's Northern Morobe Province on the popular Black Cat Track. Papua New Guinea's prime minister says he makes no apology in calling for the death penalty in what he calls an appalling crime. Peter O'Neill told the countries parliament that he also planned to introduce stronger measures to protect tourists.

PETER O'NEILL: I am, in fact, looking at the same arrangement that places like Bali have, where they've got tourist police. We are looking at working closely with tourism promotion authorities with the concept of tourist policing. So when trekkers are going out, policemen and women can accompany them.

Peter O'Neill says tourism is a big revenue earner for the country, and Papua New Guinea has big potential. The police are also condemning that attack, calling it shocking and unthinkable. Superintendent Dominic Kakas says it was a slaughter.

DOMINIC KAKAS: There was a 0.2 or 0.3 rifle used, a home-made firearm, and four bush knives.

Dominic Kakas says the police are doing everything they can to capture the attackers, including using a helicopter to search the area. Mr Kakas also says local villages have joined in the search. He's confident the people responsible will be brought to justice.

DOMINIC KAKAS: The Black Cat Track is a very popular route, you know, which has been taken by trackers over the years. This is the first time this has happened, so, really, everyone is shocked about the incident.

Dominic Kakas says a New Zealander in the group suffered a severe head injury in the attack. A local MP - Sam Basil of the Morobe province - says the attackers should get the death penalty.

SAM BASIL: The people that created the situation, in terms of attacking those trackers and porters, I think most of them are youths that are unemployed and gone in and out of jail and never been rehabilitated.

Sam Basil is worried about the future of the countries tourism industry in the wake of the attack. He says it's a wake-up call for Papua New Guinea to address its law and order problems, and he has a message for New Zealanders and Australians.

SAM BASIL: It's an incident that happened. We will take care of it. We will try to make sure it doesn't happen again. Please, if you're planning to come to Papua It's an incident that happened. We will take care of it. We will try to make sure it doesn't happen again. Please, if you're planning to come to Papua New Guinea in the next 12 months, please do come. It's a good place. Unfortunately we had that incident. It's an isolated incident.

Expat New Zealander Mark Hitchcock runs Papua New Guinea Trekking Adventures and says the attack happened at the end of the first day of a six-day trek.

I don't believe the attack was prolonged. The tourists were never really in total danger, but they did sustain some injuries. They certainly are coming through well at the moment, but they have had a traumatic experience.

MARK HITCHCOCK: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says the New Zealander is in a stable condition. It's advising people to use caution in travelling to Papua New Guinea , saying there is some risk, but it has not upgraded its travel warning because of the attack. It says travellers should be alert and vigilant.