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SYDNEY, Australia (December 21, 1999 – The National/Reuters)---The failed helicopter raid on the Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation last Friday that killed five gunmen in a police shootout was part of a competition among gangs in Port Moresby to pull off the heist of the century.

A police intelligence report published in The Australian newspaper Monday said criminal gangs, which operate freely in the capital, were vying to stage the most daring robbery before the end of the century.

The November 18th report, which was sent to banks, warned of a "pending major armed robbery of a commercial bank now nearing its final preparatory stages to be staged in the immediate future.

"There are already three major gang groups planning. . . they have targeted the end of the year as the appropriate time to commit the robbery of the century," the report said. "(It) is definitely going to be an eye-opener for anyone in doubt of the ability and capability of the criminals."

The report raised the possibility that police or army personnel were involved in planning the bank robbery.

"There is a strong indication of criminals participating in this major robbery to be from all ends of the city," the report said. "There are other interesting participants such as certain businesses, bank officers and possible inclusion of members of the two disciplined forces."



PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 21, 1999 – The National)---One of the five men killed in the gun battle with police on Friday during an unsuccessful robbery of the PNG Banking Corporation was a former PNG Defense Force soldier.

The gunman was a mortar man with the First Battalion of the Pacific Islands Regiment, (1RPIR) Taurama, who was discharged from the force in 1995.

A Defense Force spokesman said that since the gunman was discharged, he was no longer a serviceman and was not receiving any entitlements or benefits from the force.

The spokesman said the man was an employee of a security firm at the time of his death.

All five men in the attempted robbery were killed in the shootout with police after the helicopter they tried to escape in crashed on Stanley Esplanade. They were fully armed with military-type weapons and hand grenades.

The Defense spokesman said that an investigation is under way to identify whether the grenades were military issue or came from other sources.

"We are checking out the batch numbers of the grenades and are working very closely with police," the spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, the grenades found at the crash scene are often floated on the black market. He said investigators are checking the order and production numbers to confirm whether they had been bought by the PNGDF for military purposes. The military-type uniforms could have been easily bought at a commercial outlet, he said.

International markets have made it impossible to pass legislation banning the sale and use of military uniforms, he added.

He also said there has been no legislation to prevent the sale of toy M16 rifles, pistols and other toy weapons that are sold to the public in stores.

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

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