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High-powered weapons stolen from jail’s armory

By Todagia Kelola and Andrew Alphonse PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, May 5, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), six armed and masked men stormed the Buiebi jail near Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, on Tuesday night and released 91 hardcore criminals before escaping into the dark with high-powered weapons from the jail armory.

A major manhunt is now under way in the resource-rich province – the home of the 40 billion kina [US$16.4 billion] PNG LNG project.

In the commando-style operation criminals – some of them serving time for murder, rape and armed-robberies – were released into the stormy night.

Correctional Services Minister Tony Aimo, CS Commissioner Richard Sikani and his management team revealed the dramatic operation by the criminals yesterday.

Mr. Aimo said the "forced escape" and the theft of high-powered guns by the gang will definitely pose a major threat to the 40 billion kina [US$16.4 billion] LNG project and National Elections next year.

Developer of the LNG project, Esso Highlands PNG, when contacted on the incident stated through their spokesman and public affairs manager Miles Shaw: "It is not impacting our operations."

Mr. Aimo said the forced escape of prisoners was unfortunate and beyond the control of guards because during that time there was a heavy thunderstorm in the area and the guards were caught off-guard by the fully armed gang.

He said the gang held up the two guards at gunpoint and ordered them to open the gates to the cell-blocks in the prison.

The gang then "forced" the 91 prisoners to walk out of their cells and onto the Highlands Highway that led to Mendi town for freedom. He said some of the prisoners were hardcore criminals convicted for crimes and serving their terms at the cell while others were remandees awaiting court appearances.

Mr. Sikani said between 1am and 1.45am, in the early hours of Wednesday a gang of six, masked and armed with assault rifles went into the main maximum security compound and held-up the two guards.

THEY seized the detention cell keys and other keys off them and freed the detainees in the detention cells – the Remandee Detainees’ cell and the High Risk Detainees’ cell.

The total detainee population at the time of the break out was 171 – 151 males and 20 females.

Firearms stolen were: three AR15 semi–automatic self loading rifles, two Winchester long barrel shotguns, one gas gun, 39 rounds of 5.5 AR15 round bullets and 20 Winchester shotgun bullets

From the 91 that were freed eight refused to escape and returned while one was recaptured.

The eight that returned informed the CS officers that the six armed men were a gang with a motive to free two of their gang members that were locked-up at the detention cell in Buiebi after been brought in by police on Tuesday.

The two are high profile offenders wanted for murder and stealing of a police vehicle. The two remandees were named as Peter Hena of Pangia – suspect of murder and Paul Rabno of Upper Mendi – suspect for stealing a police vehicle.

Minister Aimo and Commissioner Sikani are appealing to the Southern Highlands public and their leaders and politicians to assist in ensuring that the escapees and the firearms are recovered.

Meanwhile, the Southern Highlands provincial police commander Chief Superintendent Teddy Tei has given the escapees "seven days grace period" as of yesterday to voluntarily surrender to the police or get back to the jail.

He said after the seven days grace period lapses on May 11, 2011, there would not be any mercy if these prisoners are caught by the police and CS officers.

Supt Tei also appealed to leaders and people in the communities in the province to provide any information of the whereabouts of these prisoners if they are seen in their communities, adding that these men are bad and can do harm to the society and communities.

He also warned people of harboring the escapees, adding that people who did that were equally guilty as the prisoners.

He warned the prisoners and the gang to "voluntarily surrender or else be prepared to face the full force of the law as the government has long hands" and would soon catch up with them.

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