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By Jim Baynes

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 23, 2002 – The Australian)---Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta said it was an open secret that national politicians were involved in the smuggling of firearms and drugs.

Gun smuggling is an enormous problem for the crime-ridden South Pacific nation, which heads to the polls in three weeks.

The worst affected area is the strife-torn Southern Highlands, where 300 armed youths are currently holding two policemen and a political candidate hostage.

At a press conference held at his Port Moresby residence today, Sir Mekere was asked whether he believed national politicians were involved in the gun and drug rackets.

"It's an open secret," said the Prime Minister.

"Many people talk about it and I have no evidence to deny it."

Sir Mekere said it would be a massive task to stop the influx of the weapons.

The Prime Minister also ruled out sending the army to the highlands to restore order.

As well as the well-documented prevalence of military assault rifles, sources say gangs in the Southern Highlands have even bought light machine guns such as the M-60.

The hostages are surrounded by heavily armed captors claiming 500,000 kina (AU$ 280,000/US$ 156,587) in compensation for the alleged shooting of two of their tribe by police during a shoot-out at the weekend.

During the gunfight the bandits slashed the police mobile squad's tires but most of the police escaped by driving the vehicles on the wheel rims.

Taken hostage were police constables Casper Maugla, Joseph Gaius and Koroba Lake Kopiango candidate Benias Perry.

With widespread fears of further election violence there is growing support for the PNG government to declare a state of emergency in the Southern Highlands.

For additional reports from The Australian, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Australian.



WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 24, 2002 – Radio Australia)---The United States has warned its citizens in Papua New Guinea to take appropriate precautions, in case demonstrations linked to next month's elections turn violent.

The State Department says Americans should avoid large public gatherings, political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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