THE Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress has supported calls by landowners for an independent inquiry into the landslide at Tumbi, Southern Highlands Province.

Union president Michael Malabag said the landslide was of an unprecedented magnitude and had caught many people unaware.

He said the death toll was still not confirmed.

Malabag said two leading landslide experts – Prof David Petley (Durham University) and Prof Tim Sulliwan (University of NSW) – had raised serious concern over the proximity of the landslide to the quarry that serviced the Esso Highlands LNG venture.

“Local people have been living in the disaster area for generations and this is the first time such a catastrophe has happened with many lives lost,” he said.

“It may be concluded that what triggered the landslide was man-made as a result of dynamite and usage of chemicals to blast the quarry on the mountain.”

Malabag said the government had the capacity and the drive to launch this inquiry and the people of Tumbi region deserved no less.

“The inquiry must be transparent, independent, inter-disciplinary and well resourced. It should be monitored by an oversight committee that will include a range of representatives from civil society and landowners,” Malabag said.

Juha Landowners Association chairman Hengebe Haluja welcomed the investigation calls, urging the government and developer Esso Highlands to conduct separate independent investigations.

He said the ExxonMobil, Governor Anderson Agiru and Komo-Margarima MP Francis Potape should contribute money instead of relying on the K10 million funding from the national government.

“And ExxonMobil must be on the ground right now instead of hiding.”

Haluja called on ExxonMobil to resettle all impacted project landowners as it had failed to do so initially.