Aussie judge to lead PNG campus violence inquiry

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Australian judge Warwick Andrew has been appointed by Papua New Guinea’s National Executive Council as the chairperson of the newly-created commission of inquiry that will investigate a recent spate of violence around state-run university campuses in the country.

“We all need answers, right around the country, to understand the factors leading to the escalation of student protests and the acts of violence that we have seen in recent weeks,” Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in a statement.

“This Commission of Inquiry will be independent and thorough and seek to get to the bottom of these issues identified in its terms of reference.”

Over the weekend, a student at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology at Lae was killed when a group of men brandishing bush knives stormed the male dormitories of the campus, a report by the Asia Pacific Report said.

The group – called by the university’s vice chancellor Dr. Albert Chram as “marauders” – allegedly set fire to buildings.

A couple of weeks ago, buildings and cars were set ablaze at the University of Papua New Guinea and police in the capital of Port Moresby allegedly shot into a crowd of student protesters who intended to march to the country’s parliament.

Conflicts were also reported in the Papua New Guinea cities of Goroka and Mt. Hagen.

The students have been protesting how Prime Minister O'Neill has handled corruption allegations. O’Neill, however, has directly blamed the country’s opposition for encouraging the protests.

“Members of the Opposition have been engaging with students...The blood of the injured students is on the hands of those members and their supporters,” O’Neill told ABC Australia.

In the two university campuses in Port Moresby and Lae where tensions have risen, the government has announced that it will impose a curfew from 7pm to 6am.

Any student found by the new commission to have participated in the violence were also warned that they will be punished accordingly.

The appointment of a team of technical and legal experts to help in the probe is expected soon after Andrew’s selection as head of the commission.

In 2014, the former Australian judge also headed another commission of inquiry after O’Neill announced a renewed investigation into corruption charges made against him, which saw the prime minister even served with a warrant.

Andrew also led the 2012 probe of the Rabaul Queen ferry disaster.
 

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