PNG’s Michael Somare, ‘father of the nation’, dies

Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, Michael Somare, has died aged 84, his daughter said on Friday.

Known as the “father of the nation”, Somare led the Pacific archipelago to independence from Australia in 1975 and served four times as prime minister.

Sir Michael Somare, PNG’s “father”, has died.Credit:Reuters

He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early February, his daughter, Betha Somare, said in a statement.

She said many Papua New Guineans had embraced her father as their own “father and grandfather”.

Prior to independence, Somare was the chief minister of the Australian-administered territory of Papua New Guinea. He most recently served as the country’s leader briefly in 2011.

Sir Michael Somare in 2011.Credit:Nic Walker

PNG is a mountainous and sprawling nation rich in resources and minerals, including oil and gas and gold and copper.

Linguistically diverse, it is one of the largest island economies in the South Pacific, although it has faced economic hardship and internal conflict, most notably during the decade-long civil war in the region of Bougainville that claimed as many as 20,000 lives before ending in 1998.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape said the former leader was now rested from the “pain and toils of life”.

“Our nation honours this great leader, the founding and longest serving prime minister of our country,” Marape said in a statement, appealing for a week of silence, peace and calm as the country pays its respects.

“He is unmatched by anyone of us who comes after him,” he added.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sir Michael was “an extraordinary man of his generation” who lit the path for “Papua New Guineans today and into the future”.

“[…] So I just want to honour him in his passing and reaffirm Australia’s great friendship. More than friendship. Our family relationship with the people of Papua New Guinea.”

In a statement, Labor party Leader Anthony Albanese, Senator Penny Wong and Pat Conroy, paid tribute to “the enormous contribution of the late Sir Michael Somare to public life in Papua New Guinea and in the wider Pacific region”.

“Sir Michael has rightly been described as a colossus of PNG’s political landscape.”

Reuters, with Rachel Clun

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