Nauru president says government took right action during riot
Nauru president says the action by the government last week, in suspending the police commissioner and calling out the reserve, during a riot at the asylum seeker camp, was appropriate.
The President of Nauru, Baron Waqa, has rejected claims by an opposition MP that the people of the island, called out during a riot at the asylum seekers' camp, were in a highly agitated state.
The asylum seekers rioted and wrecked the camp, causing what has been estimated at US$55 million of damage.
About 150 of them are to face the Nauru courts from late next month on various charges, including rioting and wilful damage.
Opposition MP Mathew Batsiua has said the government inappropriately involved itself directly in police operations, suspending the police commissioner, Richard Britten, and calling out the island's reserve.
A group of about 150 Nauruans marched to the camp, but Mr Batsiua says the government had panicked and had unleashed a mob that could have made a bad situation much worse.
However Mr Waqa, who was out of the country, attending the 10-year Regional Assistance Mission celebrations in Solomon Islands, says Mr Batsiua is wrong on all counts and the government's action was appropriate. He spoke to Don Wiseman.
BARON WAQA: If you had been privy to the discussion prior to what happened, then you would appreciate the action of the government. Because there was indication a protest was to happen and the reaction was to allow them to continue and march down to the airport, which we know is not a right thing to do - to allow these asylum seekers to leave the camp and come outside and protest. We don't know these people, and subsequently we found out that they became hostile and burnt down the camp. So there was a difference in view. The police commissioner has his own view to allow these people out. But the government has to protect its people. There's so many things, we put ourselves at risk by allowing these people out.
DON WISEMAN: The police commissioner, his advice was that that the gates should be opened.
BW: Yes. Well, for them to come out and protest at the airport. This is absurd to me, especially when I have been advising no asylum seekers to go out, especially with the new policy they're trying to push through previously to have the camp as an open camp until I'm satisfied with the security and the safety of our people. To allow them to come out and protest, we don't know. Just like now, they were contained in the camp and they burned down the camp.
DW: So what happens with the police commissioner now? Is he going to be reinstated or what?
BW: Well, he's suspended. He's not sacked. We just relieved him of his duties at that time and put in our own people that we thought would handle the job well. And exactly that's what happened.
DW: And as far as you're concerned, the reservists were orderly, they weren't agitated, they weren't on the verge of panicking?
BW: No, the reservists were engaged just in case things went out of hand, and there's about 150. But the mob-like action up there, as explained by the Opposition member, is not at all correct, because when the news went out, as I was advised, all young men, they just raced up to the camp to try and stop these people from coming out. So they were gathered outside their camp, anyway. They couldn't get in. But the police did very well, as well as other security personnel and staff at the camp, to contain the rioting and the asylum seekers from going out of the camp.
DW: We know rebuilding is now already significantly underway. Security is going to have to be improved, and this is something that Mr Adeang has already alluded to. What are you going to do?
BW: At the moment, everything has calmed down. We are confident that our security partnership with Australia will sort this thing out.
DW: What you anticipate is a lot more security guards coming in from Australia?
BW: No, not at all. We can handle the situation now. We do have private security companies engaged here locally, as well as contractors from overseas, from Australia. We have our own police, as well, but certainly we'll be looking to training them up in riot management and things like that. Yeah, security is a top issue for us and our priority at this time, and we need to be certain that our people are safe and not exposed and subjected to the same thing that happened that Friday evening.
DW: And the additional costs involved will be met by Australia?
BW: Yes, well, they were still building, anyway, so now they're having to rebuild again. And the additional costs will be passed on to the Australian government to settle. And, of course, we have to shoulder some cost, as well, as they are currently doing right now. We have our prisons all filled up, about 151 people locked up so far. And it's a bit too much for us, but we're managing.
DW: What is the capacity of the prison?
BW: We've got 30, 40, but we moved out our local prisoners and moved them to another block to try and accommodate everyone in the prison. And we're also using other holding cells, as well, at the police station.
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