22 May 2002

Ransom demand in PNG hostage crisis

6:17 am on 22 May 2002

More than 300 heavily armed youths in Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands have demanded more than 130-thousand US dollar for the release of three police hostages.

Their demand is reportedly to compensate for the death of two tribesmen in a weekend firefight.

The clash, which followed an attempt to arrest an armed young man, also left a policeman dead and the youths then seized two other constables and a candidate, Benias Perry, near Tari.

Most of the police escaped by driving the vehicles on the wheel rims.

One of two policeman shot in the attack escaped by exchanging his uniform for civilian clothes.

Police are ruling out a rescue attempt of the hostages, with the provincial police commander, Nema Mondia, saying the police would prefer the situation to be resolved through negotiations.

"We are working through the village chiefs, village leaders to go in there to rescue those being held hostage. We're taking that approach so at the moment the people on the ground are negotiating the release of the hostages."

Former Southern Highlands governor, Anderson Agiru says he has visited the three men and negotiated their release from a steel cage.

Mr Agiru says the three are now in the home of chief Yawas Komiabu from the Kanimu tribe of South Koroba.

Commander Mondia says the number one concern is the safe return of the hostages.