Prison armoury robbed

Main Stories, National

The National, Thursday, May 5, 2011

SIX armed criminals yesterday attacked the Southern Highlands provincial jail, broke into the prison’s armoury, stole all weapons and ammunition and freed 91 dangerous prisoners.
The attack took place between 1am and 2am when the men, armed with AR15 semi-automatic assault rifles and wearing masks, entered the prison and held up two guards in the detention compound.
They then went to the remand and high security cell blocks and freed the prisoners.
Correctional Services commissioner Richard Sikani said after freeing the inmates, the gang and the freed inmates ransacked the armoury, emptying it of all its contents.
The mob stole three assault rifles, two shotguns, a gas gun, 39 rounds of 5.5mm ammunition, 20 rounds of SG bullets and two short-range projectiles.
Deputy commissioner operations Henry Wavik said they tied up the two warders, locked them in a detention cell block before freeing the prisoners and emptying the gun depot.     
Wavik said eight inmates, in the three cell blocks that were forced open, refused to escape.
“The inmates who remained told us that the gang was from Pangia and were after two high-risk prisoners who were brought in on Tuesday,” Wavik said. 
He said the two prisoners – Peter Hena, of Pangia, who was jailed for murder and Paul Ranbo, of upper Mendi, who was jailed for stealing a police vehicle – were brought to Bui-Iebi on May 3.
Wavik said 29 of the escapees were convicted criminals, 17 were National Court accused on remand and 45 had been remanded by the District Court.
Wavik said at daybreak, a massive manhunt by police and Correctional Services officers started, resulting in the recapture of one escapee at the Kiburu Lodge junction in Mendi.
He said the others were believed to be on their way to Hagen, Ialibu, Kagua and Pangia.
Wavik said at the time of the breakout, the Bui-Iebi jail had 45 officers and 171 detainees, which included 151 men and 20 women.
He said this was not the first time his men had come under attack in the Southern Highlands. Similar attacks were staged in the province in 2007, 2009 and last year.
Sikani and Correctional Services Minister Tony Aimo told a media briefing yesterday they wanted the stolen arms returned and for the escapees to surrender voluntarily.
Aimo said if such attacks continued, he would consider removing his men from Mendi and all of Southern Highlands.
“I have tried my best to ensure correctional services are extended to Southern Highlands, but, what about the security of my men?” he asked.
Aimo said national investment projects in the province like the LNG project “will be jeopardised if the escapees are still outside”.
He asked the provincial authorities and public to help return the escapees to complete their jail terms.