By MIRIAM ZARRIGA
TOMMY Maeva Baker’s top lieutenant Michael “Mekere” Yawi was among the seven armed thugs shot dead in a gunfight with police on Tuesday.
Mekere, who was the gangster’s “operations commander”, had been on the police wanted list for the murder of a police constable in 2016 and lawyer Michael Efi in 2019.
Mekere and 13 others, all armed, clashed with police in the mountains of Alotau in a running gun battle between 1am and 2am in the Tommy Baker Gang’s makeshift camp in.
Police commander Chief Supt Peter Barkie told The National: “He (Mekere), along with 13 others, engaged police in a deadly shoot-out, resulting in him and six others shot and another seven escaping.
“Police continue their search for the rest of the gang members, including Baker.”
Mekere, who is of a mixed parentage of Kubalia, East Sepik, and Rabaraba, Milne Bay, has been in Baker’s the company since 2013.
He was wanted for several armed robberies, stolen motor vehicles, and was a person of interest in several murders including the shooting of Const Samuel Pisa in 2016 and Efi in 2019.
Those killed in the shootout were Misa Pereko, Jetro Patrick, Joe Dawamora, Benamu Peter and Benben Dimax. The other is yet to be identified. Police sources confirmed that Dawamora was part of the robbery at Jade Island Trading supermarket in 2016 and was also wanted for questioning into the shooting of Const Pisa.
Police, working on intelligence reports, moved into the mountains of Alotau district, chasing the gang from Rabaraba to Sirisiri and onto Pem before moving inland tracking the gang.
The officers crossed the sea, swam across rivers and climbed mountains for four days until they came upon the gang that Tuesday morning.
The camp was located between Wakwapu and Gurupwaia villages on a plateau on a mountain with a steep climb up and down from the gang’s camp.
Blocking off all escape routes, police surrounded the gang, the gang of 14 tried to fight their way out.
The sound of gunfire interrupted the tranquility of Alotau mountains as police and the gang fought.
Police moved in, gaining the upper hand, pushing the gang back into their makeshift home before the shooting stopped.
Officers checked on gang members who they thought were injured, instead they found all seven dead.
Another seven using the cover of darkness escaped, taking with them several firearms and some ammunitions.
Yawi was found with a Winchester rifle and ammunition strapped to him, another man was also found with a Winchester rifle.
In the camp, police found a bag of marijuana, a homemade shotgun, several knives, petrol drums and other items taken from various armed robberies while the gang was on the run.
Police Minister William Onglo commended police officers in Alotau and said: “I want to thank the people of Alotau for their support to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) and in particular the local leaders and people in the Makamaka LLG for assisting the officers as they followed the criminals into the unknown jungles of the district.”
By MIRIAM ZARRIGA