A group of Tongan missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Papua New Guinea has gone into hiding in a church in Lae as unrest and violence erupted in the country on Monday, March 1.
The chaos came after days of mourning following the death of the nation’s longest serving Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.
Somare, 84, known as the “father of the nation,” died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a key leader in wresting the Pacific nation’s independence from Australia.
Police faced a mob at what appears to be a road in front of the LDS church in Lae, a Facebook live video seen by Kaniva News showed.
Shootings were overheard as hundreds of people fled the scene before they stopped and attempted to reorganise themselves.
It was alleged the shootings came from Police who were trying to disperse the mob.
The crowd were attempting to rob a nearby Chinese shop, it has been claimed.
The lootings and chaos in Gordon as well as in Eastern Boroko in Papua New Guinea were also caught on camera and shared to Facebook.
Tongan President ‘Isileli Fatani of the LDS Mission in Lae, the second largest city in PNG, who was in a building few meters away from the scene, said the situation “was terrifying”.
He said he was just arrived at their accommodation after driving down the road seeing people looting shops and businesses and fighting in other parts of the country.
He was overheard telling one of the missionaries to lock the gate.
He said they were hiding inside the church property while he was livestreaming the incidents.
He was also overheard asking one of the PNG missionaries at the property whether it was safe for them to leave the church and move to town.
Motive behind the chaos
Fatani claimed the motive behind the attacks was a reaction by the locals after the death of Somare.
“He was a Prime Minister they loved most,” Fatani said.
His video had racked up 1,300 comments and 1,400 shares within 10 hours after it was published to Facebook this afternoon.
In a post on Facebook a PNG commenter said the operations of the Asian businesses during a public holiday set in memory of Somare disappointed the locals.
“If all the PNG citizens can heartedly respect the great loss of our Founding Father Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare and the Prime Minister of the Day through NEC Declare Public Holiday today, which government law or order will these so called Asians be following or governed by?” the post read.
“I would suggest let there be a looting. Police must not deter any looting because these Asians must respect PNG law, respect our country’s Father’s mourning.
“Permitting looting will put a complete stop for any shop to operate.
“Let’s all respect our legendary father for the last time because he will never be seen again till we meet again in paradise.”
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has remembered Somare.
In a statement it said: “It was with deep sadness that I received the news of the death of the Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare, the founding father of Papua New Guinea and a warrior of the Pacific.
“Sir Michael’s passing leaves many bereft. He was the most humble of Leaders who always held his people at heart. His effortless lifelong charisma and humility drew people from all walks of life.
“He will be remembered for his profound vision and leadership as Papua New Guinea joined newly independent nations at the Forum Leaders table. In hosting the Forum Leaders and welcoming the region to his nation, he reminded all of the need to guard our unity as one regional family closely– even as he set to work leading Papua New Guinea into its unique role as part of the Pacific, and of Asia.”
Somare was PNG’s longest-serving prime minister, in three separate terms, for 17 of the country’s 45 years of independence.