Protesting landowners in Papua New Guinea have ended their blockade of the famous Kokoda Track.
The PNG Government has agreed to the group’s key demand — to review a joint aid program with Australia in exchange for the track being reopened.
The landowners claimed the aid program, the Kokoda Initiative, was not being run properly and they were missing out on the economic benefits of the track.
Protest leader James Enage said landowners were happy with the Government’s response.
“We are very confident with the approach that through the review [the demands] will be considered,” he said.
The blockade had lasted almost three weeks and was threatening to delay the official start of the trekking season next month.
Provincial Governor Robert Agarobe had implored the protesters to end their blockade.
“Let’s open the track, we got trekkers, trekking companies out there who want to finalise and book their trekkers to come for this trekking season,” he said.
Mr Agarobe said the Government would consult and involve landowners more in the future, to prevent any further protests on the track.
“Reputation is everything and I think we should avoid this moving into the future,” he said.
“This is very unnecessary.”
The protest began after the PNG Government started a review of the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) — the management agency for the trekking industry.
The review was launched after sustained criticism of the track’s management from tour operators.
Papua New Guinea’s Tourism Promotion Authority chief executive Jerry Agus said the closure had the potential to damage the track’s reputation.
“The word closure of Kokoda Track definitely has negative implications on tourism industry in this country because you don’t only have Kokoda Track in the entire world, there are other alternative tracks that people can go to,” he said.
But Kokoda Tour Operators Association president Sue Fitcher said the standoff ended before it could have a lasting impact.
“If we are going to entice more Australians to trek Kokoda, we need to have confidence that the track will remain open, that it’s business as usual, so this kind of disruption does have the potential to be damaging, [however] I don’t think it has been so on this occasion, to any extent,” she said.