14 Apr 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

1:41 pm on 14 April 2021

Another 219 Covid-19 cases in PNG, death toll in Eastern Highlands tribal violence reaches 31, Fiji Corrections officers heading to Sth Sudan get Red Cross training, and more.

PNG Pandemic Response Controller, David Manning

PNG Pandemic Response Controller, David Manning Photo: EMTV

PNG close to 9,000 Covid-19 cases.

Papua New Guinea has recorded 219 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours ending midday on Monday.

The latest update from the National Pandemic Response Controller takes PNG's total number of Covid cases to 8,821.

So far 21 of PNG's 22 provinces have reported cases of the coronavirus.

The death toll is 69.

Tribal fighting death toll to 31

The death toll from a tribal conflict that broke out last week in Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands province is nearing three dozen.

Speaking to the ABC's Wantok programme about the tribal fight in Kainantu district, the provincial Police Superintendent Michael Welly said 31 people had died.

The fighting, which has continued intermittently in the past several days, stemmed from a land ownership dispute between two tribes, and involved high-powered weapons.

Police from other provinces have been sent to Kainantu as reinforcements, amid efforts to bring a pause in fighting for mediation to begin.

Samoa man facing double murder charge out on bail

The Samoa Supreme Court has released on bail a man facing two murder charges following the shooting deaths of two men from Afega Village on New Year's Eve.

The defendant, Vaotu'ua Auleoleo Ne'emia, who is in his late sixties, is on a surety bond of $US23,000 dollars raised through a mortgage on his land.

Vaotu'ua has pleaded not guilty to counts of murder and weapons charges.

He has been in police custody since his arrest in January.

The court trial is set for June this year.

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Photo: 123RF

Meanwhile a former police officer who is facing a charge under the criminal libel law for defaming the former deputy speaker of Parliament during an interview on EFKS TV has yet to enter a plea.

The accused, Paepaetele Ernest Betham, is also charged with resisting police on the day of his arrest.

His case has been adjourned for two weeks to allow the police to finalise his charges.

The accused told the television station the former deputy speaker, who was also a former assistant police commissioner, had allegedly raped a police woman but the matter was never investigated.

Two Fijian students in custody after weekend assault

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Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koroi Hawkins

Two Fijian students are in police custody following their alleged involvement in an assault case last weekend.

Police say the two senior students have been accused of assaulting some junior students at their high school.

Police say the alleged incident happened following the school rugby team's loss last Saturday.

Police said more senior students were expected to be questioned over the incident.

This is the third alleged assault involving students in the past two weeks.

Charges were laid over the alleged assault of a Year 12 student at a prominent school last week.

Police said the student was allegedly assaulted by an adult while trying to stop an altercation between two fellow students on the school premises.

The student was admitted to a Suva hospital for injuries sustained in the alleged assault.

Earlier, police arrested a high school student for allegedly punching a policeman at a bus station in the northern town of Labasa.

According to police, the officer had advised the student to tuck his shirt in but the student refused and allegedly swore at the policeman.

Police said the officer approached the student who then turned and allegedly punched him twice on his face.

The incident drew a large crowd to the bus depot area.

More police officers arrived and took the student to the station where he was questioned.

Police said the student's parents were called to the police station.

No charges had been laid. Police investigations are continuing.

Fiji Corrections officers heading to Sth Sudan, get Red Cross training.

Twenty Fiji Corrections Service officers, being deployed on a UN mission to South Sudan, got training from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Suva on Tuesday.

In a one day workshop the officers briefed on the humanitarian situation in South Sudan to prepare them for what they may find in the world's youngest country.

The workshop focussed on issues like international human rights and South Sudanese law, international detention standards, Covid-19 in places of detention, and sexual violence.

The ICRC's protection co-ordinator in Suva, Björn Rahm, says the Fiji Corrections Service has been supporting the UN mission in South Sudan since 2010.

He said "through these deployments, the Fiji Corrections Service plays its role in contributing to peace and stability abroad, whilst also providing its officers international exposure and experience that will enable them to better conduct their duties in Fiji upon return."

American Samoa needing more money to pay for repatriations

American Samoa's governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga says the budget for the repatriation programme is running low.

He says efforts are being made to get more funding so all stranded residents can return home.

Since February, the government has operated two repatriation flights from Honolulu.

A third flight is planned for this week, on April 15th, bringing 238 passengers who are currently quarantined at a Honolulu hotel.

Upon arrival in Pago Pago, the group will undergo another 12-day quarantine.

According to the governor, the repatriation programme has a budget of $US8 million and the cost to operate a flight is nearly $US2 million.

Lemanu says efforts are underway to secure additional funds as it plans for flights through to June.

Henry Puna's wife ready to step up

The wife of the Cook Islands former prime minister Henry Puna is to contest the by-election for his Manihiki seat.

Akaiti Puna will be vying for the seat under the banner of the Cook Islands Party.

Henry Puna retired from parliament last year and entered the race to become the new secretary general at the Pacific Islands Forum.

He won that contest and will take up the position at the beginning of May.

However the first issue will be to deal with the fallout from his election and the commitment by the Melanesian Forum members to leave the body over its refusal to support their candidate, Marshall Islands diplomat Gerald Zackios.

The other two candidates in the May 5th by-election are Democrat Munokoa Maraeara and Temu Okotai, who is standing as an independent.

Australia providing more aid to Vanuatu in wake of Covid-19 and Harold

The Vanuatu Tourism Office is to get $US873,000 dollars to help it develop and implement a tourism recovery market plan.

Such a plan is seen as crucial to the country's long-term economic recovery.

The grant will enable the office to undertake an analysis on how tourism will be changed by the pandemic and help it fund direct marketing.

This support is part of the Australian government's broader Pacific Covid-19 response package for the Pacific.

Australia has committed more than $US50 million to help Vanuatu respond to both Covid-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold.

Australian High Commissioner in Vanuatu, Sarah deZoeten, announced additional financial support this week.

The Australian money will help Vanuatu lessen the economic impact of border closure, the downturn in tourism and TC Harold by complementing the measures taken to date by the government of Vanuatu.

The package will put money back into the pockets of the people throughout the country's education and tourism sectors and through cash transfer for vulnerable households.