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By Korugl-Korugl

MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea (August 11, 1998 - The National)---An armed gang held up a dormitory full of girls at a high school in the Eastern Highlands province last Wednesday and raped 13 of them.

Three of the victims are under close medical observation because an unknown substance was injected into their bodies by the rapists.

The ordeal undergone by the teenage girls at the remote Okapa High School has shocked provincial authorities who have launched two separate investigations, education authorities and police said yesterday.

Police described as "animalistic" the actions of the 18-member armed gang which terrorized and raped the girls repeatedly.

Three of the victims were held down and a foreign substance was injected into their bodies through their arms before the gang fled from the dormitory, police said.

Five suspects have been arrested, two of whom are students at the school, according to police.

A Police Mobile Squad was sent to Okapa to investigate the incident after it was reported to the police and education authorities on Friday.

The Provincial Education Board has ordered a separate probe into the incident to establish if anyone from the school, including teachers and students, were definitely involved.

"We are camping the squad out at the school and they are vigorously investigating the incident," Provincial Police Commander Barclay Iarume said from Goroka.

"Already we have arrested five people - four on Friday and the other the next day. I want to appeal to those still at large to hand themselves over to police."

Chief Inspector Iarume warned of tough action against those still at large.

"We will not hesitate to take tough action against them. They are not humans and we will flush them out," vowed Mr. Iarume.

Divisional police commander Assistant Commissioner Mathew Minok said three armed men broke into the girls' dormitory between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.

The three men then ordered the girls to hand over the keys to the doors of their dormitory and opened the back door to let the other 15 men in.

Mr. Minok said they ordered everyone to be quiet and raped their victims and injected three of them with an unknown substance.

"We don't know if the substance was a drug or poison but the girls are under medical observation ... it is very sad, I feel for the girls and their parents," Mr. Minok said.

Authorities described the incident as the worst armed holdup and rape at an educational institution in the Highlands.

"Okapa High School is a problem school. Two weeks ago, two teachers from the local area were suspended over allegations that they were engaged in sexual activities with female students," a spokesman for the PEB said.

This is not the first time the school has been plagued with the sex scandal. Its founding headmaster was arrested and charged with sexual offences involving students several years ago.

Apart from the sex scandals at the school, the geography of Okapa and the location of the school has been of great concern to the education authorities and parents alike because the road condition is very poor and the 500 students have to walk for many kilometers to get to the school.

"Female students are continually being harassed on the road. There is nothing we can do. We cannot close the school or relocate it because the school is a church agency school," the spokesman said, adding that it caters for the 60,000 people in the Okapa district.

All classes at the school have been suspended and the lower grades have been sent home since the incident, school officials said.

They said arrangements were being made to send Grade 10 students to other high schools in the province to enable them to sit for their final exams.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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