11 prisoners shot dead, 1 recaptured and 33 flee in PNG jailbreak

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Buimo Jail near Lae
A massive jailbreak at Buimo Prison outside Papua New Guinea's second city Lae ... an investigation. Image: PNG Post-Courier

By Marjorie Finkeo and Joan Bailey in Lae

Eleven prisoners have been shot dead in Papua New Guinea, one was recaptured and 33 others are still at large following yet another massive breakout at Buimo jail outside Lae city at the weekend.

Correctional Services and police officials say the breakout at the troublesome jail happened on Friday under the pretext of the prisoners seeking medical help for a sick prisoner.

The real cause of the escape is being investigated, and comes more than a week after the jail became the first in the country to report a confirmed case of covid-19.

Correctional Services Commissioner Stephen Pokanis confirmed on Sunday that a total of 45 prisoners, comprising 35 remandees and 10 convicts, were involved in the escape.

He said they had gathered at the prison gate and shouted at a duty officer to allow them to take a sick prisoner to the clinic to seek medical attention.

“They then rushed in numbers to the gate when taking out the sick prisoner; they attacked the duty officer with a kitchen knife and ran out to the outer gate in the compound. Two officers standing there were outnumbered when they rushed out,” Pokanis said.

The prisoners ran out from the main prison compound and towards the officers’ accommodation quarters and off to the hill behind the quarters to Buimo mountain, Pokanis said.

Six officers on duty
He said six prison officers were on duty shift from 6am to 2pm when the incident occurred.

Pokanis said the alarm was raised and the Lae police sector patrol helped prison warders to search for the escapees, and in the process shot the 11 and recaptured one.

Lae metropolitan police commander Chris Kunyanban said the reasons for the mass breakout were not known and is under investigation.

“Police also began operations to recapture the escapees, checking public transport travelling out of Lae to ensure that they are confined to Lae so we can recapture them,” Kunyanban said.

“Some escapees are from rural areas and they will escape out of Lae so our appeal to the public is to assist police with any reliable information of the whereabouts of the inmates who escaped.”

Kunyanban said the escapees need to be recaptured and locked up because they will make life miserable for the people in the community, the public and the business houses.

Kunyanban said in another jail breakout in January this year, one prisoner was killed and 10 escaped and are still on the run so the responsible authorities must consider upgrading the capacity of the jail by having good facilities for the inmates to use and deter escapes.

Still searching for escapees
Correctional Services Minister Chris Nangoi confirmed the warders and police were still searching for the escapees, adding that the reason for their escape may be in fear of coronavirus since the jail already recorded its first case, which was a 53-year-old female warder.

Nangoi said the remandees were the ones behind the mass breakout and they are still waiting for the release of K7 million (NZ$3 million) from the government to build a high capacity security fencing and accommodation for CS officers to boost manpower as currently there were not enough warders at the prison.

“Police and warders are working closely to find the 33 still on run, none of our officers were injured,” he said.

He said more information about the breakout and investigations would be available this week.

Marjorie Finkeo and Joan Bailey are reporters for the PNG Post-Courier.

Buimo Jail graphic
Buimo jailbreak timeline. Graphic; The National
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