VANUATU'S OMBUDSMAN ALATOA CONCERNED ABOUT POLICE CASE

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (September 3, 2002 – Radio Australia)---Vanuatu's Ombudsman has expressed concern over a decision not to arrest 20 police officers facing charges of mutiny.

Hannington Alatoa believes the decision could undermine the country's justice system.

The officers are facing mutiny charges for arresting Vanuatu Police Commissioner Maile Apisai, whom they said should not have been awarded the position, on August 4.

Five officers involved faced a preliminary hearing last week, while another 20 failed to appear in court.

Public Prosecutor Heather Lini-Leo decided to allow the police to take part in a traditional reconciliation ceremony over the weekend in an attempt to resolve the matter.

But Mr. Alatoa said the decision not to execute a court order to arrest the police was wrong.

"Such a process of reconciliation should not replace what is already in the statutes, in the laws of Vanuatu, in terms of alleged criminal acts.

"We cannot water down that process in replacing it with a reconciliation process which, to me, should only be considered for civil cases -- other than things that might swing toward criminal allegations.

"So we have to be terribly careful about the use of custom," Mr. Alatoa said.

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

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