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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 26, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Papua New Guinea vanilla growers are going into West Papua's provincial capital, Jayapura, to sell their produce - risking arrest by Indonesian police for illegal entry.

A source from the Foreign Affairs Department in Port Moresby, who declined to be identified, said up to 20 Papua New Guineans cross the border by road weekly to sell vanilla at exceptionally high prices.

"Some are earning up to US$ 100 per kilogram (2.2046 pounds)," said a Sandaun provincial government commerce division officer based in the border town of Vanimo, who requested anonymity. PNG buyers are only offering between K 50 (US$ 15.55) to K 60 (US$ 18.66) per kilogram of vanilla.

"We have people coming from as far away as Maprik and Wosera in East Sepik province," he said.

"Up to 20 people go through the immigration checkpoint every week with about 500 kg to 600 kg of vanilla. This is big stuff and it is big money," he said.

"What we have are just official figures. There are many who do not have passports and visas. They just sneak through."

The Foreign Affairs source said several Papua New Guineans went on a boat loaded with vanilla from Wewak to Vanimo and then crossed over to Jayapura under the cover of darkness two weeks ago. However, they were intercepted by the Indonesian military and ordered to return to Vanimo.

The boat -- owned by a Mr. Kapai from Kreer village in Wewak -- had ferried some Maprik vanilla sellers. Also onboard were other well-known Wewak identities.

The Foreign Affairs source said the boat returned to Vanimo and sought proper entry visas before crossing over the border to sell the produce.

One Gulf province man, who did not want his name published, has taken up residence in Jayapura and commutes between PNG and Indonesia.

He told The National that he had identified some 42 vanilla buyers in Bali and Jakarta. He buys the product and sells directly to buyers there.

"There are even better prices outside Jayapura and they are paying in U.S. dollars," he said.

He returned to Port Moresby last week with some fishing nets that he purchased in Indonesia for his relatives in Lese Oalai village. He said the vanilla trade is big business, adding that marijuana could also be involved.

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

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