19 Aug 2005

UN official says foreigners trying to escape rebel zone of PNG's Bougainville

8:31 am on 19 August 2005

The former head of the United Nations observer unit in the Papua New Guinea province of Bougainville says he's heard reports that and Australian and a British man are trying to leave the rebel no-go-zone.

Tor Stenbock, who directed the UN mission, says he's heard reports in the former mining town of Arawa that Australian Jeff Richards and Briton James Nesbitt are anxious to leave the rebel area.

Mr Richards and Mr Nessbit flew into the disused Aropa airstrip near Panguna in September with two Australian pilots who were later fined for making an unauthorised landing.

It's not clear what the pair have been doing in Bougainville, although they have been linked to the late separatist leader Francis Ona and to an investment scam.

Mr Ona died a month ago but the two expatriates have since remained within a no-go zone policed by followers of the Meekamui Movement he founded.

Tor Stenbock says the pair are now facing questioning and he thinks they fear for their own lives.