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Australian police patrol streets of PNG capital

Australian police joined Papua New Guinea officers on Thursday to patrol one of capital Port Moresby's most crime-ridden suburbs on Thursday as part of a programme to restore law and order in the divided country.
/ Source: Reuters

Australian police joined Papua New Guinea officers on Thursday to patrol one of capital Port Moresby's most crime-ridden suburbs on Thursday as part of a programme to restore law and order in the divided country.

They accompanied newly trained PNG officers in patrol cars and on foot through the streets of Gordons, where heavily armed ethnic gangs frequently clash.

"It was a quiet start to patrols," said Anton Haufolo, a reporter for The National newspaper who followed police.

"There were a lot of curious onlookers. Everyone knows the Australians are here to help Papua New Guinea and they were shaking hands with the police," he said.

PNG's deputy police commissioner of operations, Gari Baki, said the Australian police programme was not intended to usurp policing but assist local officers with training and mentoring.

"The programme intends to build on existing strengths in the PNG police and address its weaknesses," Baki said on Thursday.

Gordons is home to makeshift settlements that house rival gangs of "Raskols" -- or criminals -- and its market frequently turns into a gangland battlefield.

Seventeen Australian police will be stationed at Gordons.

"Gordons is one of the crime hotspots, where ethnic gangs clash. It's a melting pot of different tribal groups from around PNG and they reside in different settlements," said Haufolo.

Leaders of the criminal gangs have said they would not let Australian police take away their rifles and homemade guns.

Australia began deploying 210 police to PNG in August in an attempt to bring peace and stability to its northern neighbour.

PNG is a nation of 600 islands where 85 percent of its 5.3 million people live subsistence lives in villages clinging to jungle-clad mountains. It is divided by 850 languages, where tribal allegiances dominate and tribes engage in bloody wars.

A PNG government review of the local police force last month found officers were corrupt, apathetic and prone to violence, including raping women in police cells. It said rampant crime, fuelled by a build up of unemployed youths, had spread from urban centres to villages creating a social breakdown and civil unrest.

Analysts say the resource-rich, developing nation could collapse into chaos unless law and order is maintained.