POLICE INVESTIGATE RAPE OF DYING AITAPE TSUNAMI VICTIMS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 26, 1999 - Post-Courier)---Serious allegations involving the rape of dying women after the Aitape tidal wave disaster have been referred to police, Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs Minister Dibara Yagabo has said.

Mr. Yagabo, who visited the disaster area and met with people in care centers two weeks ago, said in a statement that his department was aware of the allegations and had passed the matter on to the police for investigation.

Police in Wewak and Aitape had begun investigations, he said.

"The rape allegation is one of the law and order problems that came to the notice of my department and have been referred to police for proper investigation to establish the truth,'' Mr. Yagabo said.

"Since the allegation is now public, I appeal to the Police Department to thoroughly investigate the law and order problems in Aitape and take appropriate action.''

The head of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) has confirmed accounts of women being raped and other social problems affecting the 10,000 people in care centers.

Asmie Sinapa said she and association member Kathleen Sakias spoke to people in care centers two weeks ago and learned that rape and assault had been a constant threat in Aitape since the July disaster.

Alcohol and drug abuse were also on the increase as people tried to come to terms with their losses, she said.

"It's a way of getting on, or forgetting their trauma,'' she said.

Mrs. Sinapa said people had experienced so much trauma that they needed constant counseling to be properly rehabilitated.

Many female victims they had spoken to were reluctant and ashamed, even fearful to speak about their experiences.

Offenders, she said, were known to the victims but they were afraid to identify them.

She said referring the matter to police would not help the situation and it required a coordinated approach.

"Jailing a person might not be the right approach because he might come out a worse person,'' she said, urging that the matter be handled with sensitivity and caution.

"We condemn what's happened but you have to also consider the circumstances which brought this about.''

The Aitape Catholic Diocese was providing counseling and had achieved some positive results, she said.

Mrs. Sinapa appealed for more assistance to supply awareness materials on the issue. Air Niugini and Airlink have assisted the YWCA by flying in the material on recent trips.

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