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April 21, 2021
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Update: UPNG Student Boycott Continues

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By Serah Aupong, Vasinatta Yama and Theckla Gunga – EMTV News, Port Moresby

A little after 4am this morning, a convoy of police vehicles drove into the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) Waigani campus. Uniforce personnel said police removed the barricade that was at the main gate of the university, with officers taking up strategic locations in and around the university grounds.

Police say they were there to maintain peace and normalcy at the university, present at the request of Vice Chancellor, Professor Albert Mellam, and the University Senate to ensure that students who chose to return to class would be able to do so without intimidation. 

Despite the heavy police presence and classes being opened, no one is attending classes. Sources said that after police arrived female students dressed in black sat at the forum square to show that they are still united in their stance to boycott classes until the Prime Minister steps aside from office. 

The student body maintained their stance in their regional groups and eyewitnesses said the national anthem was sung after they gathered this morning.

Around 11am, 10 PMV buses arrived at UPNG’s main gate. They were there on the request of the students, who planned on conducting an awareness campaign across the city today.

EMTV caught up with Wesley Warun, SRC Secretary, while the buses arrived at the main gate of the university to transport the students out of campus to conduct their awareness.

“Today is scheduled for a mass awareness. Even though the police are present here, we have permission from the met sup who is the commanding officer to carry out the awareness. Their presence here is only to protect the staff and property so we will continue the awareness,” Warun said.

While we were still talking to Warun, police ordered all the buses to leave the university premises and the students to go to the forum square.

“We already got verbal approval from the met sup, the commanding officer he gave us the green light to get the buses in and get the students out,” Warun said.

We followed the students back to the forum square where we spoke with a student leader, Desmond Koki, who said “This day was set aside to do awareness outside the campus to get views and comments from parents on whether to continue the boycott. That’s why the 10 buses are coming. If they agree we will continue the boycott, but if they disagree we will return to campus and look at other options.”

However, NCD Metropolitan Superintendent, Ben Turi, who is in charge of the operations at the university, said he has received a letter from SRC Secretary Wesley Warun, but did not give approval for the students to leave the campus to conduct awareness. 

Turi made this comment after he and ACP Crimes David Manning met with Professor Mellam and the university senate. He said without a referendum, the students are not permitted to do anything, and they insist that the Electoral Commission must clarify their stance in conducting the referendum. 

EMTV News caught up with Professor Mellam shortly after their meeting, who said he couldn’t comment on the referendum issue.

“I want to make it clear that the matter is before the court. The referendum is between the SRC and the electoral commission and the university passively assisted. We went through the motion. What we know now is electoral commission took the matter for further advice from solicitor general,” Mellam said. 

EMTV News witnessed a student leader handing Turi a letter requesting for clarity on police presence on campus, and for Turi to give them time to explain their reasons for carrying out their awareness off campus.

We understand there will be a meeting with students, Professor Mellam and possibly NCD Governor Powes Parkop at 3pm this afternoon.

Electoral Commission (EC) media said they are caught in a catch 22 situation. The initial legal advice they have is to not be involved, as they could be taking part in the potential overthrowing of a legitimate government, but if they refuse to conduct the referendum they will still be criticised. 

Currently the commission is awaiting legal advice from the solicitor general on these matters:

1.       Whether or not to conduct the referendum. They are taking into account that conducting a referendum is not part of their mandate because the SRC is not a state institution. However, with the UPNG administration “passively facilitating” the SRC’s request the EC now awaits advice to proceed. 

2.        In relation to the UNITECH referendum, they say the Morobe Electoral Commission office did not get approval from the headquarters in Port Moresby to conduct the referendum for the students and this will be investigated.

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