PNG POLICE CHIEF ORDERS PROBE INTO ATTACK ON WEST PAPUAN REFUGEES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 12, 2001 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---An investigation has been ordered into the incident involving Papua New Guinea police and West Papuan refugees in Vanimo.

Coastal/border command police chief Alfred Reu said he had directed West Sepik police commander Joe Poma to investigate and report the findings to him as soon as possible.

Mr. Reu said the incident in which members of the mobile squad police allegedly beat up 15 refugees inside their camp near Vanimo town was serious and he was giving it serious treatment.

He said reports from police in Vanimo said a large number of men from the camp had gone to the Vanimo Timbers yard on Tuesday to get timber off-cuts.

He said the group had been noisy and were carrying bush knives, which frightened workers at the timber yard.

"Some of the workers were Indonesian citizens, and when they saw the refugees with knives and shouting, they became frightened. The workers called police, who attended to the complaints."

He said the police officers might have over-reacted, but this would be investigated. "If the investigations find that the police officers were at fault, then they will be dealt with," Mr. Reu said.

The Bishop of Vanimo, Bishop Cesare Bonivento, has expressed concern over the incident.

He said the Catholic Church had been entrusted to care for the 400 refugees, and as such the church was very concerned.

Two of the refugees were sent to the hospital with severe wounds while 13 others were treated and released after the attack on Tuesday.

A number of West Papuan refugees living in the camp fled after the police action.

The refugees are also anticipating a visit to the camp by Indonesian Foreign Affairs officials to talk about the refugees returning to their homes. This has added to their fears.

Bishop Bonivento said about 20 of the refugees went into hiding.

He expressed concern over the actions of police, believed to be members of the mobile squad from Lae sent to the border area after the refugees began arriving.

He said last week after visiting the camp that there were signs of destruction and feelings of anger among the refugees.

The refugees told him that the police had driven into the camp and started shouting abuse and pointing guns at the frightened people.

The policemen asked for the camp leader who was then attacked with timber planks and a bush knife.

When another man, who the Catholic Diocese in Vanimo used as an interpreter, tried to intervene, he also was set upon with the same weapons.

Both men were admitted to Vanimo Hospital, where one underwent an operation due to the injuries.

Bishop Bonivento said another 13 people were also badly beaten and had to be treated at the hospital.

He called on police authorities to act on the matter.

Papua New Guinea and Indonesia (West Papua) share a common land border. The Indonesians call West Papua the province of Irian Jaya.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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