Chapter 7: Attacks on all fronts - Papua New Guinea, January to June 1992

On Monday January 13 1992 the front page of the Post-Courier carried the banner headline: Terrorists attack Mount Kare minesite. More details emerged in the following days, but the first Post-Courier story captured most of the relevant details. It read, in part:
An armed balaclava wearing gang attacked the minesite on Thursday night [9 January], terrorising employees and causing up to K3 million worth of damage in a three-hour orgy of destruction.
They stole K7000 in cash and K25,000 worth of gold from the company safe, and left a note telling mine developer CRA Minerals (PNG) Pty Ltd to get out of Mount Kare.
The mine has since been closed, and most of the personnel flown out. Company officials say they do not know when it will reopen. ...
Riot squad police were flown into the mine by helicopter on Friday to track down the attackers.
The gang of 15 to 17 armed men stormed the minesite about 7.30 pm on Thursday night, firing factory-made and home-made guns into the air.
They forced [General Manager] Mr Bartram and several employees at gunpoint to pour diesel and kerosene on buildings and a heavy-lift helicopter and set them alight.
‘Some of our employees ran away into the bush,’ Mr Bartram said. ‘Others hid behind the buildings and the rest were rounded up at gun-point and told to lie on the ground. The armed men called me out and ordered me to burn the helicopter. I was forced to pour kero over it… I had to do it.’
Two living quarters buildings, a section of the administration block and some heavy machinery were also set alight… Mr Bartram estimated the damage at between K2.5 million and K3 million.

Other articles gave eye-witness accounts. Employees reported that some of the attackers were wearing masks, while others had their faces painted black. They held their guns in front of them, lifting them to fire into the air.
‘They were almost like soldiers,’ one employee said. ‘It was every man for himself. Expatriates and nationals alike scaled the perimeter fence to get away. Some did not stop running until they were well away from the attackers. But some of us stood outside the fence and watched from outside as the attackers reduced the camp to almost nothing.’

Another witness said: ‘They knew exactly where things were, when the shift changed, and how to cripple the mine camp.’
Andi was at home for the lychee harvest when the attack occurred. He had a brief phone call from Moresby on the night of the attack, and learned more details on Friday. On Saturday he was on the plane to PNG – CRA’s Ian Johnson was on the same flight. They overnighted in Moresby, and the next day went to Mount Kare to inspect the damage and speak to people. Andi’s notes recorded what they told him.

It had been a properly organised, well planned attack. It was lucky that Bartram or someone was not blown away. People on the ground were convinced that James Iki and his brothers had led the attack – it was like a military operation. I thought it was quite possible. If anything was going down, those blokes would be in it. Within ten days we knew who they were but proof was another matter, and even more so who paid them.’

Over the next few days the press reported a variety of responses from politicians and others. They show how divisive the Mount Kare disputed had become. Under the headline PM condemns ‘criminal behaviour’ on 13 January, the Post-Courier reported Prime Minister Rabbie Namaliu as saying:

Last year I warned that the interference of politicians in the Mount Kare question not only set a bad example, it would also be used to destabilise the situation. I await with interest the reaction of those Opposition leaders who have sought to be involved in the question of the mine ownership. If they do not condemn outright this criminal behaviour, they themselves will deserve the strongest possible condemnation.

The story continued...

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