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Sarawak tycoon’s firm hired PNG cops to bash up locals, ABC reports

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

Papua New Guinea (PNG) police admitted they were paid by a company owned by Sarawak tycoon Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King to crack down on locals protesting against a controversial oil palm project there, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported today.

The state-owned media channel’s “The World Today” programme reported that villagers in PNG’s East New Britain province were arrested and beaten last week by a squad of police officers under orders from Rimbunan Hijau (RH).

RH is Tiong’s multi-industry company with the biggest logging and oil palm plantation shares in the South Pacific country. The 76-year-old is said to be worth US$1.1 billion (RM3.5 billion) and is ranked by Forbes to be the world’s 840th richest man.

The villagers were protesting the clearing of 44,000 hectares for an oil palm plantation by a company called Gilford Limited without their permission, the news agency said.

The locals suspect Gilford is a front for RH as the hired security guards don the logging giant’s uniform.

According to ABC News, PNG’s police assistant commissioner Anton Billy accused the protestors of trespassing into the plantation’s work camp in another district, Pomio, and assaulting workers.

Billy also said RH flew the police officers to the area and was paying their allowances and providing accommodation. But he did not see anything wrong with the arrangement.

“We don’t have any funds to get these people there and pay them allowances and all this stuff. That’s normal,” Billy was cited as saying by ABC News.

A PNG local has refuted the police’s claim, saying the officers were drunk that night when they acted against the protestors.

“What they did is they bashed up the people in the village, young men and elderly men, this in front of us, and three of them said let’s go because they were under arrest,” said Paul Pavol, reportedly one of the protest leaders.

PNG’s top police commissioner has ordered an investigation into claims of police harassment, saying officers found guilty of abusing their powers will be dealt with.

But RH has yet to respond to questions about its involvement with the police action or its connection to the oil palm plantation, ABC News said.

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