Four men have been arrested in connection with the attack on the popular Black Cat track last week.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: ABC's PNG correspondent Liam Fox
FOX: Well the latest development in the whole spree was the movement of the injured porters from the rundown and shabby Angoe Public Hospital in Lae to the Private International, Lae International Private Hospital in Lae, that happened not yesterday, the day before. I got back from Lae to Port Moresby late last night and that was the latest development.
The injured porters, very badly injured, had really nasty gashes to their legs, forearms, backs. They have been wallowing in this rundown public hospital for nearly a week. Both they and their families and others who had gone to a lot of effort to rescue them after the attack on the Black Cat Track last week were really very unhappy that they had been left there and the treatment was pretty poor. Like all hospitals in PNG, it's facilities, it's dark, it's medicine stocks were pretty limited, it took several days before the porters were able to undergo surgery just to clean their wounds, not treat their wounds, just clean them. So lots of people very unhappy that they had been left there.
The trekking company, PNG Trekking Adventures, their employer finally moved them to the private hospital and as of yesterday, I went into the private hospital and saw them and was told by PNG Trekking Adventures that two underwent surgery yesterday and the rest were expected to quickly follow. So that was some good news in what has been a tragic story.
COUTTS: And are all the others injured, are they are all likely to survive?
FOX: That's hard to say at this stage. The two, speaking to Mark Hitchcock from PNG Trekking Adventures, he believes that will be the case. He said that this private hospital, the Lae International, has the facilities and the staff that can not only treat their wounds, but also provide the rehabilitation they're going to need to be able to walk again. These are guys that have had their calf muscles slashed, deep, deep gashes in their calf muscles, their ankle tendons, the achilles tendon slashed as well. They're not going to need just surgery. They're going to need months and months of rehabilitation just to walk again. And Mark Hitchcock from PNG Trekking Adventures believes that this hospital does have those facilities.
COUTTS: Now, the relatives and friends of the porters that have died and who are injured and still in hospital say there's a bit of a racist element to it and that the company should have treated everyone the same, so they say they treated 'the whities', and that was the expression that I heard on television last night, better than the porters and the company now is defending their response to the tragedy?
FOX: That's right, that certainly was the feelings of the locals, particularly their families when they were wallowing in the public hospital in Lae, that the trekkers, the Australians who were, compared to the porters relatively minor, sustained relatively minor injuries. The porters really bore the brunt of the attack. Two were killed at the time and one died in hospital later, while the Australians only sustained bruises and lacerations, not to say that what they didn't go through was not traumatic. It must have been, but the porters bore the brunt of the physical injuries. Yet from the viewpoint of the locals, the Australians were quickly whisked back to Australia. They've been able to receive Australian-standard medical attention. I think it was on Sunday night, Saturday or Sunday night there was a contrast in the stories on the ABC News that night between one of the trekkers who'd gone back and was in hospital. He had what appeared to be sitting in a king size hospital bed in a very clean room with nice clean bandages, while these guys in the Angoe Hospital in Lae had dirty bandages, sitting in filthy rooms, and people were very angry about the difference in the treatment between the Australians and the locals and from what I saw in that hospital, you can fully understand why they felt that.
COUTTS: Now the two still at large, police obviously know who they are. Are they any closer to getting hold of them?
FOX: Well, throughout this ordeal, we travelled to both Wau at the start of the Black Cat Track and to Lae, of course, to see how things were on the ground.
By and large, everyone has been happy to speak to us, all except the Provincial Police Commander in Lae, Mr Lame. He shouted at us twice to leave him alone and not to speak to him. Despite us ringing the Police Commissioner in Port Moresby's office and asking if we can speak to the PPC and being told that yes we can speak to the Provincial Police Commander, we've been shouted to leave him alone when we've gone to try and do an interview. So look, it's pretty hard to find out what the police are up to, other than statements coming out of the Police Commissioner in Moresby's office. We simply weren't able to find out officially what was going on, because the Provincial Police Commander in Lae apparently, doesn't like the media and doesn't want to talk to us. What we do know is that they believe that there are two suspects still at large, four have been arrested. We've been told through the Police Commission in Port Moresby's office that there are 30 officers from the Police Mobile Squad still hunting for those two suspects believed to be still at large. The four that have been arrested have been interviewed in Lae and we understand from talking to PNG Trekking Adventures that the police have requested that they provide them with lists of all the items that were stolen during the attack. So it appears that no charges have yet been laid. But because the police hierarchy in Lae won't talk to us, we haven't been able to find out whether police have been able to determine a motive to the attack, whether those suspects who are in custody have admitted to it and other details like that.
COUTTS: Now Liam, Prime Minister O'Neill has called for the death penalty if these attackers are found guilty. Is that still on the table?
FOX: Look, it's definitely it's still on the table. Parliament has passed laws that have effectively reinstated the death penalty and increased the number of crimes that can be punished by the death penalty, those include murder and aggravated robbery. The only issue is that PNG is yet to determine how it's actually going to carry out the death penalty. Perhaps given that the wheels of justice can turn pretty slowly in PNG, perhaps that might happen by the time these guys go to a trial and that trial is resolved. But at this stage, PNG's yet to determine how it's actually going to carry out an execution whether that be firing squad or by hanging or by electrocution. They simply don't have the means that right now to be able to carry out the death penalty.
COUTTS: Well, everyone is still preoccupied with the tragedy and the viciousness of this attack. I'm wondering yet has attention turned to what impact it might have on tourism?
FOX: Oh look, everyone in the trekking industry, not only in those companies that go along the Black Cat Track, but other operators, but operators on the Kokoda Track, which is far, far more popular and sees far, far more people walk along it. They're all worried that they're going to feel the impact.
I spoke to one trekking company shortly after the attack last week. They're very worried and they're very worried with good reason, after the plane crash in 2009 on the Kokoda Track in which 13 people were killed, including nine Australian trekkers, there was a massive slump in the number of people who came to Kokoda to walk the track, huge numbers of cancellations. And, in fact, those numbers haven't, the numbers haven't recovered back to the state that they were before 2009, even today. So people are very worried. It's one of those incidents that just reinforce stereotype that people have worked out hard to counter, that is PNG is a dangerous, lawless land - so people are very worried, yes.