Australia boosting aid to Papua New Guinea for landslide recovery and security

NEWCASTLE, Australia (AP) — Australia will provide a further 2 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) to support reconstruction efforts in Papua New Guinea after last month's deadly landslide, the government said Thursday.

The South Pacific island nation off Australia's northern coast is still struggling with the aftermath of the disaster in Enga province in its mountainous interior, which the United Nations estimated killed 670 villagers and immediately displaced 1,650 survivors. Papua New Guinea’s government has told the United Nations it thinks more than 2,000 people were buried when the mountainside tumbled onto the settlement of Yambali as people slept.

“Road access is critical for essential services as well as food and fuel supply chains,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement that coincided with a visit to the site of the landslide with Papua New Guinea's Defense Minister Billy Joseph and Enga Gov. Peter Ipatas.

“The additional support of $2 million announced today is in response to PNG’s request to restore connectivity of the Highlands Highway – the transport artery of the region,” Wong added.

Wong said the aid would also support local health care services and the provision of more than 1,000 learning packs for children.

Australia’s initial assistance of $2.5 million provided emergency supplies, support for humanitarian partners and disaster responders and technical experts in the days after the landslide on May 24.

PNG security support

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Wong, with other senior government officials are in Papua New Guinea for a ministerial forum, the most significant such bilateral gathering for Australia among South Pacific island nations.

PNG has a population of nearly 10 million people and is the most populous Pacific island nation.

During the visit, they unveiled a comprehensive aid package aimed at bolstering Papua New Guinea's internal security and advancing law and justice priorities under a bilateral security agreement established last year as part of Australia's attempts to ward of growing Chinese influence in the region.

Key components of the package involve supporting a weapons management program and enhancing PNG’s legal framework to combat financial crime.

“A safe and secure Papua New Guinea is good for Papua New Guinea, it’s good for Australia and it’s good for the region,” Wong said Thursday on Channel Nine's Today show.

“So, we have an interest, Australians have an interest in making sure we work with Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbor, to ensure security and stability," she added.

Already this year, PNG has been beset by deadly riots in its two largest cities, Port Moresby and Lae, while long-running tribal feuds led to at least 26 men being killed in an ambush in February, as well as a clash between two rival clans that killed eight last month.

Keiran Smith, The Associated Press