Papua murder fuels crisis

February 9, 1996

The murder of two academics and two students in separate incidents at the University of Papua New Guinea over the past year has created a sense of crisis as students return to their studies for the new academic year.

Staff were also preparing for possible violent reactions from students following the introduction of upfront fees for the first time. The cash-strapped central government has imposed new charges of 375 kina (Pounds 500) a semester.

The opening of the new academic year was postponed for a week to give students more time to raise the money. The university was forced to close in 1991 after students blockaded the campus in a furious response to a 15 per cent budget cut.

Although the university had settled down after reopening in 1992, the murder of a lecturer in anthropology, Janet Kisau, reflects the continuing violence that is a daily part of life in Port Moresby.

Ms Kisau was shot dead on December 21, just hours before she was to fly to Australia to begin her doctoral studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne. She was returning with two friends to her home on campus in the early hours of the morning when she was attacked and killed.

Police believe the motive for the attack was robbery as her car and money were stolen. Had she lived she would have been one of the few Papua New Guinean women to go on to graduate studies.

A senior commerce lecturer was stabbed to death by masked attackers near his home last May. Two students were also shot dead on campus last year.

A university official said that campus security had been overwhelmed by the level of violence but the university's new vice chancellor, Rodney Hills, was anxious to defend the institution.

He said he believed that 90 per cent of the staff and students wanted to get on with their studies in as peaceful an environment as possible.

A former Australian high commissioner to Tonga, Dr Hills is an agricultural hydrologist but has recently been involved with aid issues affecting South Pacific nations. He was director of the federal government's Centre for Pacific Development and Training in Sydney.

He said he had accepted the appointment because of the challenge.

"My first priorities will be raising the quality of education offered at this university and improving staff morale," Dr Hills said. "Both will require a close watch over the academic programme."

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