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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 3, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---A special police squad from Port Moresby has smashed one of the country's most notorious criminal gangs in a well-coordinated raid in Popondetta.

The police action is expected to bring down the incidence of murder and other serious crime in the Northern province headquarters sharply.

The armed gang of criminals led by Michael Isorua Sarufa, whose criminal activities extended to Lae and Alotau, was shot and wounded during the undercover police assault on his operational headquarters, located on a hilltop on the outskirts of Popondetta.

The gang has been responsible for a series of murders, gun battles with police, break and enter, rape and armed robberies over the past six months.

Several gang members were captured along with high-powered guns, a powerful police radio, and police and military camouflage uniforms.

The firearm haul included two police issue firearms, an AR15 rifle and a five-round shotgun.

"Popondetta has been under a reign of terror driven by this armed gang," Detective Chief Sergeant Noboya Zozowa told The National in Popondetta.

"The law and order situation got out of control starting in June.

"We are grateful to the business community and the provincial administration for assistance in bringing in this special police task force from Port Moresby."

Sarufa, who was nicknamed "Sheriff" because of his power and notoriety throughout Popondetta, put up a gun battle after the crack police unit suddenly closed in on the gang's makeshift camp on Bango Hill outside the town on Christmas Day.

But Sergeant Jerry Beamaga, the one-eyed, no-nonsense crime buster and Bougainville veteran, led his small police team in the uphill assault after police secured all possible escape routes.

"As we crawled in slowly and quietly on them, they somehow realized we were in the area," Sgt. Beamaga told The National, pointing out that the gang was accessing information through a police radio that was in their possession.

"But I cut all radio communication. As we got closer, they opened fire at us and we retaliated.

"We climbed up tactically and fast. Timing was very important to us and we had to execute our plan within a given time. It was either us or them. It was a life and death situation.

"I had the benefit of working alongside soldiers on Bougainville and applied some skills I picked up there."

"As we closed in on the hideout, some gang members tried to escape, but my men were waiting for them. Seven of them were captured.

"The ‘Sheriff’ tried to fight us off the hill but we overpowered him."

Popondetta medical authorities confirmed that one of the "Sheriff's" legs had been amputated last week and it is believed the other leg may also have to be amputated.

Police said that among the recent victims of the "Sheriff" was a young girl who had been raped and her body mutilated.

A male university student, who recently arrived in Popondetta on holiday, had also been shot dead at point blank.

The suspect was also reported to have shot a policeman in the face outside Papindo supermarket, leaving the young constable, Daniel Aindo, totally blind.

In another incident, a medical doctor and his wife were ordered out of their car and made to crawl on the bitumen. The woman was almost run over with the family car, which was driven off by the "Sheriff," police said.

"The operation has been very successful," said Detective Chief Sergeant Noboya Zozowa.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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