Kenn Mondiai, Executive Director of Partners for Melanesia, has been working with communities in the area for two decades on a proposal to have 360,000 hectares of the Plateau declared a conservation zone.
Recently the area has become subject to mining exploration by the Australian company, Goldminex Resources, which is looking for deposits in excess of 2 million ounces.
Kenn Mondiai told Jemima Garrett the incident occurred when he visited the Plateau last week to clear up rumours that he was trying to sell people's land to foreigners.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Kenn Mondiai, Executive Director of Partners for Melanesia
MONDIAI: Senior people in the local government have decided to tell stories differently from the real work that we were doing about conserving the area, the biodiversity, the culture and tradition of the local people and the forest environment there.
GARRETT: What happened in the incident when you were attacked?
MONDIAI: I was at the the market, the public market doing this awareness, informing the people about the process required under the conservation areas, act and trying to clear up a lot of these misleading stories about the conservation work will actually lead to the local people losing rights over their land. So I was in the process of doing that, when I was approached by the senior people in government that were accusing us and spreading all these stories and then they started punching me and I was manhandled by about 15 to 20 youths from the area and I almost got killed. I had cuts to my nose and my head and I was bleeding all over. Then I was rushed away to safety, but they kept following me and then they were telling me that I should get out of the Managalas Plateau and go to Port Moresby and talk to the government to withdraw the Conservation area applications that was made by the people and the Partners with Melanesians.
GARRETT: Do people have anything to fear from the Conservation area?
MONDIAI: I believe absolutely nothing. The Conservation area program is especially going to protect the forest, the 18,000 Managalas people are living within this Plateau and they are mostly subsistence and community-based society. And so if destructive developments, for example, mining takes place, then a lot of the rivers will be a dumping place for all the mining waste and a lot of the top soils will be dug up and will be bulldozed away and so the people will absolutely be losing a lot of their livelihood.
I know mining brings in a lot of cash and monetary benefits and other infrastructure, but it's not a long term kind of a benefit that will flow to the people.
The work on Managalas is not just started five years ago. It started 28 years ago and the people of Managalas are fully aware of all the development problems associated with mining and logging and forestry.
GARRETT: Just how much of the Managalas community support the proposal that the Conservation be declared?
MONDIAI: This was a decision made by the elders of the 152 clans from the entire Managalas Plateau. That decision was made in 1992 at a place, within the Managalas Plateau, That decision was the one that as directed Partners with Melanesians and the local Managalas Development Foundation and the eleven community-based CPO's to work towards getting the Managalas areas, Conservation areas, so it's a community decision made by consensus through the Managalas District Combined Forum.
GARRETT: Has this incident scared you away from continuing with the proposal for the Conservation zone?
MONDIAI: Well Jemima, I am not moved by this attack on me, because I personally believe that the work that partners with Melanesians and the Managalas Development Foundation are doing is not for the good of myself or anybody else. It's for the good of the 18,000 people of Managalas Plateau and the children and the children's that are yet to be born and that is the reason why I am not moved, I am standing firm and I'm going to do everything possible in line with the laws and with the support of the 18,000 people of Managalas Plateau to see that it gets to the stage where the government has it declared as a Conservation area.
I have the total support of the Governor, for Oro, The Honorable Gary Juffa who has been very supportive of this application, when he himself led the delegation to present the application to the Minister of Environment and Conservation, in November last year.
GARRETT: What action have you had with police over this incident?
MONDIAI: Well, I reported the matter to the police station in Popondetta, that I got bashed up, I had a written report with me, because this matter was serious and it involves a high level government official. I was then referred to the police station commander. So when I went to see the police station commander, the police station commander refused to accept my written complaint and he referred me back to the general duties and so I waited there for sometimes and then I got frustrated as my plane was flying back to Port Moresby, so I had to rush down to the airport and fly back to Port Moresby. But my letter of complaint will be faxed to the PSE's office in Popondetta.