19 Dec 2008

Inmates escape after setting fire to Vanuatu prison

4:43 pm on 19 December 2008

About 30 inmates have escaped from Vanuatu's main prison in Port Vila after a fire was started at the high-risk facility this morning.

A Vanuatu MP, Ralph Regenvanu, says yesterday the prisoners alerted him to their plans to burn down the prison and to escape.

This comes as an anonymous report suspected to have been written by the prisoners last week reached offices of Government officials and NGO groups complaining of ill-treatment and poor living conditions at the prison.

Mr Regenvanu says he and others have located some of the escaped prisoners.

"We found 26 of them that have escaped and we brought them in buses to the Chief Nakamal, which is the big Nakamal to the National Council of Chiefs. And so now we're here with them and we're waiting to see with the authorities from the Correctional facilities and the Government early this afternoon, in the next couple of hours."

Mr Regenvanu says a number of community leaders are with the escaped prisoners who have been receiving medical attention for injuries suffered during the outbreak.

He says prisoners are in the custody of community leaders because of fears of being beaten by Correctional staff.

Officials at the Ministry of Justice are expected to be meeting the Prime Minister soon to discuss the matter.