TOURISTS AMBUSHED AT PNG’S KOKODA TRAIL

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 4, 2000 – Post-Courier)---Three Australian tourists were among a group of 11 people who were ambushed and robbed Saturday along the Kokoda Trail.

They lost more than K 2,000 (US$ 740) in cash and other valuable items.

The gang of more than seven men -- armed with homemade guns, a shotgun and bush knives -- attacked them at Owers Corner, northeast of Sogeri.

The group was ready to leave the area after being there for more than 20 minutes.

Two of the Australian tourists, Philip and Leonie Pinch, were checking the area as they were planning to return to Papua New Guinea with an Australian group to walk the trail.

They alleged the armed men ran out of nearby bushes, shouting as they approached the expatriate group.

"We were all in our cars, ready to take off, when the armed men ran out of the bushes," Philip Pinch said.

Before they could take off, the men attacked them, pulled them out of their cars and forced them at gunpoint to lie flat on the grass.

Nobody in the group was injured except for one person who sustained a minor bruise.

"They were frenzied and aggressive, all the while shouting at us," Pinch said. "They made us lie on the ground while they went through our clothing, demanding cash and everything else from us. Sleep, sleep, down, down, they commanded us."

While the group lay on the ground, guns pointed at them, the gang ransacked their vehicles and took anything they could.

"They even tried to use a shotgun, but it never went off," Pinch said. "Communication was through a kick. When they wanted my watch, they kicked me. When they wanted my shoes, they kicked me."

The incident lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

The gang escaped in a vehicle belonging to the visitors.

Shaken up by the surprise attack, the group left 30 minutes later and found the vehicle parked five kilometers (three miles) down the road.

Fearing another ambush, they hurriedly drove back along the track until they came to a village.

"We told the villagers what had happened and asked them if there was anyone in the village who could accompany us to Sogeri," Pinch said. "Anton, a village elder, volunteered to come with us, all the way to Sogeri police station where we reported the matter."

Glenda Pearson said having kept their calm throughout the ordeal probably saved their lives.

"It would have taken one attack from either one of our guys or from them to have triggered off something," Pinch said.

He said Sogeri police, with Anton, retrieved the vehicle and drove it to Sogeri where it was picked up by a member of the party.

Although the matter was reported at both Sogeri and Boroko police stations, police claimed they had not received any reports in relation to 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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