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By Andrew Alphonse

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 2) - Thirty-two "high-risk" prisoners escaped from Bui Yebi Jail near Mendi in Southern Highlands on Monday morning after overpowering the lone guard.

One of the prisoners approached the guard with a cup of water and suddenly attacked him with a knife.

In the struggle, the prisoner stabbed the guard and grabbed his AR15 rifle.

Seeing the incident, other prisoners climbed over the fence and also attacked the guard. Other prisoners broke into the tool shed and grabbed bush knives, cutters and spades.

Off-duty guards alerted by the commotion rushed to the scene but were kept at bay by the prisoner with the AR15, not knowing that their colleague had managed to removed the ammunition magazine during the struggle.

A joint search operation involving Correctional Services officers, the local police and 12 members of the Mendi-based mobile unit was quickly organized but without success.

It is believed that the prisoners might have escaped into the dense forests of Mt. Giluwe and the Clancy Range, north of Mendi town.

The prison’s Acting Commander, Inspector Cobern Palon, said the escape was well planned.

"They knew that there would be fewer guards as most had gone on recreational leave," he told The National. He said the prisoners even removed the rope connected to the bell to prevent the guards from sounding the alarm.

He described the escapees as "high-risk" prisoners who were to be transported to other prisons in the country.

Twenty-eight were serving sentences for murder, rape, armed robberies and other serious offences while the remaining four were awaiting trial.

Most of them are believed to be from Upper Mendi and Tari while one is from Morobe. Some prisoners did not join the escape and stayed behind.

Acting Provincial Police Chief, Inspector Charles Parinjo was disappointed that he did not get any response from the provincial administrator to his request for a helicopter to help in the search.

Palon appealed to the public along the Highlands highway from Mt Hagen to Mendi and Tari to contact the police if they have information on the escapees. The breakout came less than two weeks after 65 escaped from Bomana Jail outside Port Moresby on Jan 18.

Only 12 have been recaptured while two drowned when they tried to swim across the Laloki river to escape from the authorities.

The Correctional Services are investigating the incident but Commissioner Richard Sikani has already admitted that there was negligence.

February 3, 2005

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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