PAPUA NEW GUINEA POLICE CHARGED WITH ASSAULTING REFUGEES

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 23, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guinea groups helping West Papuan refugees commended authorities following the arrest of two policemen involved in the recent attack on border crossers.

The two Lae-based policemen are facing criminal charges in relation to the attack on the West Papua refugees living in Vanimo, near the border.

They have been arrested and charged with unlawful wounding.

Coastal/border command police chief Alfred Reu earlier directed senior police to urgently investigate the incident.

The Bishop of Vanimo, Bishop Cesare Bonivento, had 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 hospital with severe wounds while 13 others were treated and released after the attack.

A number of West Papuans living in the camp fled after the police action, Bishop Bonivento said.

The police involved are believed to be members of the mobile squad from Lae who were sent to the border area after the refugees began arriving.

Bishop Bonivento said 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 was also 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.

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

The refugees crossed into Papua New Guinea after clashes following the Indonesian police arrest of the Melanesian West Papuan pro-independence leaders.

Human rights activists say thousands of people have died in years of fighting between Indonesian security forces and West Papuans seeking independence.

West Papuans have been campaigning for independence since Indonesia occupied the former Dutch colony in 1963.

The province was later officially taken over by Indonesia following a controversial referendum. The West Papuans call the referendum a sham and said only a small and intimidated number of people were allowed to take part.

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: http://www.pinanius.org 

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