TWENTY YOUTHS RELEASED IN MOUNT HAGEN SCHOOL MASS RAPE CASE

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MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 2, 1999 – Post-Courier)---Police have released 20 students detained in Mount Hagen cells since last week, saying they had insufficient evidence to press formal charges against them.

The students were among an original 38 youths detained over the rape of girls at Togoba High School in Western Highlands Province.

At least one of the youths remaining in custody will be charged with committing rape and another for setting fire to one of the classroom buildings.

Acting Provincial Police Commander Giossi Labi said 20 were released on Tuesday because police did not have enough evidence to charge them.

Statements from the female victims did not provide sufficient cause to lay charges, he said, noting that most of the girls were embarrassed and too frightened to give evidence to police. They were unwilling to identify suspects involved.

Mr. Labi said police were disappointed with the girls, knowing that several of them were raped.

"But it was their (girls) right to give evidence to police or not. It's entirely up to them,'' he said.

The youths were arrested at the school on Tuesday last week and detained for more than a week.

It was alleged that at least 14 girls were raped in their dormitory in a mass attack by students at night.

Only one of the victims came out openly to give evidence after being tested at Togoba Health Centre and proven to have been assaulted.

Meanwhile, the fate of the school will be decided in a special Provincial Education Board meeting today.

Deputy Administrator Michael Wandil said the board will decide either to close the school or to continue classes.

Mr. Wandil said the school's headmaster, William Wanamo, is going to fully brief the board on the current situation at the school and what happened on the night of the mass rapings.

Some youths and parents were also allegedly threatening Mr. Wanamo over the incident.

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

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