Hela police commander Michael Welly said his officers had escorted about 100 workers to the airport last week to travel from Komo to Port Moresby, telling The National newspaper he was unaware of the reason for this.
In a statement, ExxonMobil said that the company would continue to monitor the situation in the province, where there has been unrest over the continuing dispute over the allocation of royalties to local communities.
Deputy Hela Governor Thomas Potape told The National newspaper that the landowners wanted to shut down the PNG LNG project due to the prolonged outstanding benefit payments.
In its statement, ExxonMobil said: "The safety and security of our employees, contractors and the local community is a top priority. Due to recent community tension in the Highlands (Hides, Angore, Komo), ExxonMobil PNG has suspended non-essential work. Non-essential personnel are being re-deployed to other areas."
An ExxonMobil staff member in Angore was abducted in mid-November but was later safely released, the company said, and added that the incident was being taken "very seriously".
Hides Gas Development Company chairman Tuguyawini Libe Parindali said the landowners were frustrated because the government had failed to honour its commitments, the Post Courier reported.
Parindali said there were two issues affecting Hela Province: The first related the government's absence on the ground in Hides, Angore and Komo to listen to landowner grievances and the second was the continuation of tribal fights in Tari and Komo in Hela Province.
He said that government should fast-track the clan vetting exercise and release the K35 million [in royalties] promised to them.
Hides Gas Development Company (HGDC) was established in April 2008 under the Companies' Act 1997 to become the umbrella landowner company for the upstream section of the PNG LNG project.
The company is recognised ExxonMobil PNG as legitimate umbrella landowner company representing 15 regional landowner companies from Hides Petroleum Development Licence (PDL) 1 and 7, Angore PDL 8, Juha PDL 9, Komo Airfield Development, Kobalu Camp and Benaria Pipeline.
HGDC has a fully represented board comprising 18 directors appointed by the shareholders of their regional landowner companies.
HGDC supplies the local labour force to ExxonMobil PNG and other engineering, procurement and construction contractors of the PNG LNG project.
PNGIndustryNews.net has contacted ExxonMobil PNG for further updates which will publish as they are received at www.PNGIndustryNews.net