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Longtime PNG businessman, driver glad to be alive

By Peter Miva

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, March 31, 2008) - New Zealander Barry Fell thought his captors had come back to kill him when he heard a knock on the door at 2:30 a.m. last Wednesday.

He struggled to sit up from his fitful sleep, terrified that in the bush hut of a hamlet nestled between two steep slopes in Wara Bena, Asaro, Eastern Highlands Province, he’d never see the light of day.

He and his driver Simeon Gase had already missed seeing sunshine since Good Friday in Lae. Another four days of captivity more than 300 km from their Lae home, without fresh air in a smoke-filled hut and freezing environment, had worsened their mental torment.

They’d been taken from Waratahs Sports Club in Lae that Friday afternoon and driven in their utility van to Ramu Sugar for refueling and then back onto the Okuk Highway past Goroka to Asaro.

They left the highway and drove through a dirt road to a village where they were dragged out by some men and forced to go down a steep, slippery slope for about a kilometer. Mr. Fell was piggy-backed and his wheelchair carried while Mr. Gesa was told to walk down.

In this valley of about five houses, rescuers later said, there grew hundreds of coffee trees.

Fell and Gesa were not allowed out. They had to relieve themselves in buckets that were taken out by a man and his wife, who also fed them rice and tinned fish.

When the door opened, Fell and Gase did not expect the police, least of all, one of their colleagues at the door.

His first thought was that, "The check had bounced and they were coming back to kill me."

There were so many questions on their minds but they were overwhelmed by the presence of the police and their good fortune to be rescued after four days of anguish.

Fell, managing director of Fresh Produce Marketing at Chinatown Lae, originally of Wellington, New Zealand had been in Papua New Guinea for 45 years.

He had written out three checks, two for K1,000 [US$400] and one for K500 [US$200] that Saturday in the hut in Asaro after being forced to write them by his captors.

One was cashed. The others were not. The account had been frozen by his "family" - a reference to his employees.

All the while Fell and Gesa said they never knew that the captors were demanding a ransom of PGK10,000 [US$4,000] from Morobe Produce Marketing.

In Lae last Tuesday, employee Gerard Kana received the ransom and hire car demand from the captors. They wanted it delivered in Goroka.

Another employee Mark Yapi volunteered to drive there, accompanied by colleague Henry Musalu, Kana and the police went into action. The kidnappers had given them until 12 noon on Tuesday to deliver the ransom.

On the 280 kms stretch of the highway to Goroka, they began planning their move.

At about 11:30 on Wednesday night, the ransom was delivered to the rendezvous at Goroka Base Hospital.

But the kidnappers jumped the vehicle and ordered Morobe Produce driver Mark Yapi to drive quickly out.

Police, watching from outside the gates, gave chase. Yapi, slowed down and jumped out of the vehicle, leaving it open to police fire, and earning him the nickname Jackie Chan.

Police killed one suspect, arrested another while a third escaped. And then found out that the captives were held at Asaro.

After the rescue they had to move out of the hamlet quickly before the gang returned.

The female guard had slipped into the night, while the man jumped down from the slope while the rescue team was climbing up.

Fell was carried on a stretcher once they were taken out of the hut and up the steep slope after being rescued.

A suspect, Thompson Salemba, 32 from Wantrifo Village, Asaro, married with five children, was taken from Goroka to Lae and has been arrested and charged.

The police are still searching for Fell’s vehicle and some more suspects including two women for their part in the abduction and kidnapping.

Fell, who suffers from an injured hip and knees, was bedridden at his Lae home yesterday afternoon, waiting to fly this morning to Port Moresby and then onto Cairns for medical checks.

He said he had snapped out of his torment on Saturday after much support from friends all over the country and overseas.

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