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Trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant goes to the jury

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Trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant goes to the jury
News

News

Trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant goes to the jury

2024-04-19 08:27 Last Updated At:08:41

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — The trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged with fatally shooting an unarmed migrant on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border went to the jury Thursday.

Jurors did not immediately reach a verdict and will resume deliberations Friday morning.

In closing arguments earlier Thursday, lawyers debated the actions of 75-year-old George Alan Kelly, who is accused of second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea.

Cuen-Buitimea, 48, lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. Court records show Cuen-Buitimea had previously entered the U.S. illegally several times and was deported, most recently in 2016

The case has attracted national attention as border security continues to be a top issue this election year and garnered sympathy for the rancher from some on the political right.

Cuen-Buitimea was in a group of men that Kelly encountered on his property. Prosecutor Mike Jette said Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the group that was about 100 yards (90 meters) away.

Kelly said he fired warning shots in the air, but he didn’t shoot directly at anyone, explaining that he feared for his safety and that of his wife and property.

“He says he shot 100 yards over their heads. But he never told law enforcement that he was in fear of his life," Jette said in closing arguments.

Kelly fired nine shots toward the group, according to Jette, who said Cuen-Buitimea suffered three broken ribs and a severed aorta.

Jette encouraged jurors to find Kelly guilty of reckless manslaughter or negligent homicide if they can’t convict him on the murder charge.

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin, in her closing argument, said Kelly “was in a life or death situation” that was “a terrifying scenario” for him.

“He was confronted with a threat right outside his home,” Larkin said. “He would have been absolutely justified to use deadly force, but he did not."

She urged jurors to return a “not guilty” verdict, saying the state didn't prove its case.

The other migrants on Kelly's ranch in 2023 weren’t injured and managed to escape back to Mexico.

Larkin has characterized groups of migrants crossing through Kelly’s property as an increasing concern over the years, prompting him to arm himself for protection.

The trial that started March 22 included jurors visiting Kelly’s nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch in Nogales, Arizona.

Earlier in proceedings, Kelly rejected an agreement with prosecutors that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

Kelly was also charged with aggravated assault against another person in the group of about eight people, including a man from Honduras who was living in Mexico and who testified during the trial that he was seeking work in the U.S. that day.

This story has been corrected to show that Kelly fired nine shots toward a group that included Cuen-Buitimea, according to the prosecution, not that Cuen-Buitimea was shot nine times.

County Attorney Michael Jette addresses jurors during closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Rancher George Alan Kelly accused of second-degree murder in the January 2023 death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

County Attorney Michael Jette addresses jurors during closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Rancher George Alan Kelly accused of second-degree murder in the January 2023 death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

George Alan Kelly listens to closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Kelly was charged with second-degree murder in the January 2023 death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

George Alan Kelly listens to closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Kelly was charged with second-degree murder in the January 2023 death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

FILE - George Alan Kelly enters court for his preliminary hearing in Nogales Justice Court in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 22, 2023. Jurors on the case of Arizona rancher Kelly charged with fatally shooting a migrant on his property will be allowed to visit the property near the border with Mexico as early as this week as the trial enters its second half. (Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool, File)

FILE - George Alan Kelly enters court for his preliminary hearing in Nogales Justice Court in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 22, 2023. Jurors on the case of Arizona rancher Kelly charged with fatally shooting a migrant on his property will be allowed to visit the property near the border with Mexico as early as this week as the trial enters its second half. (Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool, File)

FILE - George Alan Kelly exits the Santa Cruz County Courthouse with defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp after the first day of his trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court Friday, March 22, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Jurors in the case of the Arizona rancher Kelly charged with fatally shooting a migrant on his property visited the scene of the killing as the third week of the trial wrapped up. The jurors on Thursday, April 11, 2024, viewed various locations at Kelly's ranch, as well as a section of the U.S.-Mexico border. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, File)

FILE - George Alan Kelly exits the Santa Cruz County Courthouse with defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp after the first day of his trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court Friday, March 22, 2024 in Nogales, Ariz. Jurors in the case of the Arizona rancher Kelly charged with fatally shooting a migrant on his property visited the scene of the killing as the third week of the trial wrapped up. The jurors on Thursday, April 11, 2024, viewed various locations at Kelly's ranch, as well as a section of the U.S.-Mexico border. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, File)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea’s mass-casualty disaster because of water streams and bodies trapped beneath the tons of debris that swept over a village, a United Nations official said Tuesday.

A mass of boulders, earth and splintered trees devastated Yambali in the South Pacific nation’s remote highlands when a limestone mountainside sheared away Friday. The blanket of debris has become more unstable with recent rain and streams trapped between the ground and rubble, said Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Papua New Guinea.

The U.N. agency has officials at the scene in Enga province helping shelter 1,600 displaced people. The agency estimates 670 villagers died, while Papua New Guinea’s government has told the United Nations it thinks more than 2,000 people were buried. Six bodies had been retrieved from the rubble by Tuesday, a U.N. statement said.

“We are hearing suggestions that another landslide can happen and maybe 8,000 people need to be evacuated,” Aktoprak told The Associated Press.

“This is a major concern. The movement of the land, the debris, is causing a serious risk, and overall the total number of people that may be affected might be 6,000 or more,” he said. That includes villagers whose source of clean drinking water has been buried and subsistence farmers who lost their vegetable gardens.

“If this debris mass is not stopped, if it continues moving, it can gain speed and further wipe out other communities and villages further down” the mountain, Aktoprak said.

A U.N. statement later tallied the affected population at 7,849, including people who might need to be evacuated or relocated. The U.N. said 42% of those people were younger than 16 years old.

Scenes of villagers digging with their bare hands through muddy debris in search of their relatives’ remains were also concerning.

“My biggest fear at the moment is corpses are decaying, ... water is flowing and this is going to poise serious health risks in relation to contagious diseases,” Aktoprak said.

Aktoprak’s agency was raising those concerns at a disaster management virtual meeting of national and international responders Tuesday.

The warning comes as geotechnical experts and heavy earth-moving equipment are expected to reach the site soon.

The Papua New Guinea government on Sunday officially asked the United Nations for additional help and to coordinate contributions from individual nations.

An Australian disaster response team arrived Tuesday in Papua New Guinea, which is Australia’s nearest neighbor. The team includes a geohazard assessment team and drones to help map the site.

“Their role will be particularly helping perform geotechnical surveillance to establish the level of the landslip, the instability of the land there, obviously doing some work around identifying where bodies are,” said Murray Watt, Australia's minister for emergency management.

The Australian government has offered long-term logistical support for clearing debris, recovering bodies and supporting displaced people. The government announced an initial aid package of 2.5 million Australian dollars ($1.7 million).

Earth-moving equipment used by Papua New Guinea’s military was expected to arrive soon, after traveling from the city of Lae, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east, said Justine McMahon, country director of for humanitarian agency CARE International.

The landslide buried a 200-meter (650-foot) stretch of the province's main highway. But the highway had been cleared from Yambali to the provincial capital Wabag through to Lae, officials said Tuesday from Enga.

“One of the complicating factors was the destruction of parts of the road plus the instability of the ground, but they have some confidence that they can take in heavy equipment today,” McMahon said Tuesday.

An excavator donated by a local builder Sunday became the first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery brought in to help villagers who have been digging with shovels and farming tools to find bodies.

Heartbroken and frustrated Yambali resident Evit Kambu thanked those who were trying to find her missing relatives in the rubble.

“I have 18 of my family members buried under the debris and soil that I'm standing on,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. through an interpreter.

“But I can't retrieve the bodies, so I'm standing here helplessly,” she added.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said an Australian air force C-17 Globemaster, a four-engine transport jet capable of carrying 77 metric tons (85 U.S. tons) of cargo, was already bringing supplies from Australia to Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby.

Two smaller Australian air force turboprop transport planes were already at Port Moresby, which is 600 kilometers (370 miles) southeast of the devastated village.

“There is more that we are seeking to do, but to be frank, part of the issue here is about not overwhelming a system which is currently under a lot of stress,” Marles told Parliament.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation with 800 languages and 10 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers.

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

This photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, shows a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

This photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, shows a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager looks up at a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager looks up at a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers react as they search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager reacts during a search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager reacts during a search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager searches through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, a villager searches through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

This photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, shows a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

This photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, shows a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo released by UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers search through a landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster because of water streams trapped beneath tons of debris and decaying corpses seeping downhill following the May 24 landslide. (Juho Valta/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

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