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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 28) - An Australian and a Briton who holed up in a jungle base with now dead Bougainville secessionist leader Francis Ona left the island’s rebel-held "no-go zone" because they feared for their lives, Papua New Guinea police said yesterday.

Australian Jeffrey Richards and Briton James Nessbit were released from custody in Port Moresby after questioning by police. The pair will now be referred to Papua New Guinea’s Immigration department for probable deportation proceedings after pleading guilty last week to overstaying their visas and receiving fines of PGK2,500 [US$871] each.

The pair were arrested in Buka and flown to Port Moresby for questioning two weeks ago after evading police for 18 months, most of it spent in the island’s "no-go zone". They were released but re-arrested for further questioning after they tried to board a flight to the Philippines last Wednesday.

Deputy Police Commissioner Gari Baki yesterday said the pair had been evasive in some of their answers to questions about their activities in the "no-go zone" but they finally got out because they feared for their own safety.

Richards and Nessbit entered the "no-go zone" in September 2004 after taking an unauthorized flight into Bougainville with two Australian pilots who were later charged and heavily fined. They stayed with self-proclaimed king Francis Ona in Panguna and continued to reside there following his death after a sudden illness last July.

Richards, also known as "Prince Jeffrey," and Nessbit, known as "Lord James," appeared to encourage Ona in his royal aspirations and in his campaign to achieve independence for Bougainville. Ona’s opposition to the giant Australian-run Panguna gold and copper mine sparked a decade-long secessionist war during the 1990s that claimed the lives of up to 20,000 people.

Baki said police had learned certain things from the pair but were handicapped in not being able to gather evidence from independent witnesses in the "no-go zone."

March 29, 2006

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