Drugs, guns a way of life in Daru

Drugs, guns a way of life in Daru
By Barnabas Orere
“ILLICIT trade in guns and drugs is active on Daru island,” says a government official. “Ask anyone on the street and they will tell you the same story. Everyone knows what goes on, it’s become a way of life”.

Despite its strategic importance, Daru has been neglected for so long the island has been claimed by criminals. Although there is a slight decline in gun-running, mainly due to the ban on cartridges slapped on by the Government, it is too little too late; the illicit trade has taken a firm foothold.
One faithful public servant who has been on the island for nearly 30 years lamented: “Daru has gone to the dogs.”
Moves to relocate the Western Province capital to the mainland at Wipim, a fair distance away can only bring smiles to the lips of criminals. Plans to declare the province a free-trade zone next year will be a celebration.
Daru has been a free port for a decade and a quarter. The airstrip does not have a terminal building which means people and cargo come and go at will. There are no checks on people arriving on the island by air from Port Moresby. If you are travelling to Daru from Port Moresby, there will be electronic scanning of your luggage but can concealed drugs among clothing be detected? 
Sniffer dogs might be more effective.
When returning to Port Moresby, you do not go through the same checks. The guards simply get your baggage tags and wave you on.
The criminals love this and word is that clever people in high places are investing in the niche to get rich overnight. The extent of the illicit trade suggests there is a syndicate.
The more people who are involved, the more money comes into play. And every time they respond to threats to their illegal activities, the number of corrupt people increases, severely undermining the rule of law and making the perpetrators more determined and powerful.
For instance, it has been suggested that guns can be dismantled and transported inside large
barramundi fish.
Air Niugini does not land at Daru because the airstrip is not big enough for its aircraft, leaving it to third level airlines, including light planes with Australian registration which have been sighted during the wee small hours of the morning.
The guns-for-drugs or drugs-for-cash trade has its nerve centre in the Torres Strait and because of its proximity, Daru is the staging point.
“The biggest hurdle in moving drugs is getting it into Western Province. Once it hits any corner of Western Province, its gone. We only get to hear of the transaction a week or two later”, said a government officer.
Mabudawan to Saibai Island in the Torres Strait is a 20-minute dinghy ride. From Sigabaduru it is five minutes. From the extreme western village of Buzi, it is five minutes to Boigu island. Many villagers go shopping in the Torres Strait because Daru is too far.

Marijuana, which is cultivated in the cool Highlands climate, either find their way to Port Moresby and try to reach Daru, or they come down to Balimo through a bush track from the Southern Highlands.
The Fly River is also a highway for drugs. The officer said although Highlanders were not the only people taking drugs to Daru in search of guns, their numbers on the island had increased dramatically.
Many fail their mission and stay in Daru rather than go back and face those who sent them in the first place. There were cases he knew of where Highlanders had stayed for up to four years when they lost their drugs.
In many cases, only two or three succeeded while a failure meant a string of people waiting for their cut. Highlanders cannot get to the Torres Strait. So they depend on traditional border crossers.
The Westerners have seen their vulnerability and prey on the Highlanders, cheating them of their drugs. Many Highlanders wait up to two weeks and leave — or if they cannot go back, they just live on Daru.
A source from one of the beach villages on the mainland said his village was once the main staging point for the movement of drugs. Village youth had told him of their links with the island police who, in turn, claimed had ties with Australian Customs.
Another source, a councillor, said since the Australian surveillance was stepped up, PNG drug traffickers had become more crafty. They had faster boats and moved under cover of darkness to reach the Torres Strait using stars, reefs, islands and mountains to navigate.

 They know the area better than the Australians. They know the waters like the palm of their hands. They have also learned to break down the quantity of drugs being moved to avoid detection but that has more numbers of people going to the Torres Strait. I have seen the amount of drugs being taken to the Torres Strait; its usually 100kg or more,” the Australian educated councillor said. “The going rate used to be around K600 ($A250) for a palm-sized packet. On the streets of Torres Strait, a small roll costs K12 ($A5). It’s a good time now to make money because of the favourable exchange rate. You should go down to the bank and see how much Australian money the young people want to change. They bring in $A600, sometimes more.

“On Daru you can get a roll for K2. Boy, girl, woman, man — everybody does it, nobody cares. Where I live, I see in the house next door, people smoking pipes and sniffing into tubes. It is a distribution centre. I can point out to you people who work for a top health official. I can point out the so-called pastors who are into this also — and a few policemen. Court exhibits have disappeared, stolen from police custody.”

The guns were not from Indonesia because of the brands. They included shotguns, .303, (rifle) M16 or the more powerful SKS and the canon which fired bullets “the size of your middle finger”.
A long-time public servant said police took drugs from people under the pretext of doing their work.
When it came time for the court hearing, the exhibits tendered were far smaller than the “tonnes” they stockpiled.
“If they are not publicly destroyed, the question is where do they go?” the public servant asked.
“There is a link with Federal Police so drug changes hands during joint border patrols. The cash comes through the bank. There was a case where $A85,000 coming through was intercepted by police from Port Moresby.

“The rogue policeman was a member of the drug squad based in Daru. Fifteen other policemen, drug section members and other section men were suspended. Everyone in Daru knows this story.
“The wife of the senior officer was arrested with drug in her possession, about to board a Daru flight. The police here have lost all credibility and respect. The police from the top to bottom here stinks; they stink badly.”

The public servant said the second-hand business by Highlanders on Daru was increasing.
“Why are they suddenly interested in coming to Daru; there must be something here to attract them. We have log ships that anchor some distance from the shore. They may get checked once and given clearance. And that’s it, they are free. We don’t have the logistics to keep an eye. Many people fish 1km into Australian waters because of the treaty arrangement that recognises traditional border crossers.”

He said he had never before seen humans talk and act like animals. In the last five years in Daru town, a strange behaviour had started to become the norm.
“Young people here have plain gone mad. They use obscene language that makes reference to the female genitals as a daily vocabulary,” he said. “There is no respect whatsoever for mothers and sisters or the sanctity of marriage and motherhood. People steal here to survive. Vandalism and theft is common but police are powerless.
“This is a small island yet no arrests have been made of reported cases. You can’t get any help at night, no-one answers the phone. If you are lucky to talk to someone, the excuse is, ‘sorry, we don’t have a vehicle’. That’s amazing because Daru is so small you can walk around the town.”


Copyright © 2013 Sigabaduru