Thursday, May 28, 2009

Love will tear us apart, PNG Highlands style

By Ilya Gridneff
PORT MORESBY, May 28 AAP - Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), billions of dollars, ExxonMobil and thousands of isolated Papua New Guinea landowners aren't usually the ingredients for a love story.
But this is PNG, the land of the unexpected, where village romance blossoms in the most unusual of ways - especially when money is involved.
After five intense weeks, thousands of Highlanders far from home in Kokopo, East New Britain Province (ENB), signed the unique deal for what they get from the $US12.5 billion ($A16 billion) ExxonMobil-led LNG project.
It's impossible to please everyone and as expected ferocious complaints, legal threats and abuse are already flooding in.
But for love-struck Southern Highlands Province (SHP) landowner Philemon Su'uba, who attended the talks, his gripe is not being able to bag his new sweetheart, local girl Lucy John, 22.
On Wednesday Su'uba and John tried to return home but ENB airport authorities would not let her travel without identification.
PNG's Post Courier newspaper reported Su'uba unsuccessfully pleading with airport staff: "She's my new wife, she must come with me.
"I've paid for her already, she must follow me now.
"I can't go home empty handed, if she stays I stay too," he said.
Kokopo's grounded lovebirds are arranging the necessary measures to get on with their LNG-fuelled honeymoon.
The marathon Benefit Sharing Agreement (BSA) signing session on the weekend secured relevant landowners seven per cent equity in the LNG project.
The deal is valued at 20 billion kina ($A9.5 billion) over the 30-year life span of the project touted as potentially doubling PNG's Gross Domestic Product while tripling the country's export revenues.
For PNG's Highlanders the most important things in life, in order, are land, pigs then women.
The more you have the more you are a `bigman,' so the BSA was crucial to prove one's worth.
The BSA meeting included several delays, court orders, threats, abuse, a media ban, and one senior bureaucrat attacked at the airport while others bayed for the petroleum minister's blood.
More police were deployed, every hotel in town was full, and thousands spent on accommodation and daily expenses.
Five hire cars were damaged, one crashing as it was leaving the rental shop.
Allegations of landowners misbehaving forced a collective press release denying there had been an increase in drunkenness, rowdy behaviour and luring young local girls with beer for sex.

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