Papua New Guinea land activist vows to battle for his people from Britain

 08 Aug 2017 - 22:37

Papua New Guinea land activist vows to battle for his people from Britain
Leader of the Paga Hill seafront community Joe Moses, pictured in London, July 11, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nicky Milne

By Ruairi Casey / Thomson Reuters Foundation

LONDON: A land activist from Papua New Guinea at loggerheads with the police and developers in his home country has vowed to continue the fight for his community from Britain.

Joe Moses has accused PNG authorities of treating people unfairly in demolishing the Paga Hill seafront settlement in the capital Port Moresby to make way for a luxury hotel and apartments development and a ring road.

The government granted a lease to the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC), a joint venture between local and international investors, to build on Paga Hill.

A Supreme Court ruling said the reclaimed seafront area was not included in the original lease but Moses said, unknown to the community, this land was leased by the state to developers during legal proceedings.

Moses, who features in a newly released documentary “The Opposition: Paga Hill”, said the settlement, dating back about 70 years, was home to about 2,000 people who had customary rights to the land and should have been allowed to stay.

“The whole community was a vibrant community,” Moses told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London where he is seeking asylum while his wife and children remain in Port Moresby.

“I just miss home every day, every minute of the day when I’m here.”

POLICE DENY INTIMIDATION

Moses, a former university worker, said his clash with authorities dated back to May 2012 when he led a fight in the courts to stop development.

In October that year, he said a policeman arrived at his home seeking his arrest without charge and shortly afterwards he went into hiding in an army barracks with his family.

He stayed in Port Moresby but his concerns for his safety grew in 2014 when armed police forced out the remaining residents from the Paga Hill settlement and their homes were bulldozed.

“I realised they were still after me,” said Moses. “I was not free to go to public places, public gatherings; all my communications were tapped.”

The police, however, accused Moses of discharging a gun, resisting arrest and causing civil unrest.

In a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a police spokesman denied allegations of intimidation and accused Moses of seeking fame from an international audience.

“There is no threat whatsoever on Joe Moses. He can come home anytime he wants to. There has been and will be no intimidation,” the spokesman said in an email.

Moses said with the assistance of international NGOs he was able to secure a flight from Papua New Guinea to Panama in November 2016 and then onto Britain.

“The most important thing is I need to get my family out ...  we need to be safe somewhere while waiting for the situation to change,” he said.

Moses said he hoped he will be able to return to Papua New Guinea someday to continue his fight to get fair compensation for his community, many of whom are still living in tents on a relocation site without suitable water and sewerage facilities.

A PHDC statement said the company was “proud of having achieved the first privately-funded squatter settlement relocation in PNG” with the site handed over in 2014.

“The fact that the relocation site was officially handed over almost three years ago, as well as that many settlers have since on-sold and moved on, PHDC can in no way be reasonably held accountable for the current state of the relocation site, or for those that PHDC relocated,” PHDC’s statement said.

Moses, however, vowed to press on with his campaign.

“I know that I will face consequences, but someone has to do something ... If it means life and death I will have to do this – because someone has to do something to help the people,” he said.

(Reporting by Ruairi Casey, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith)