16 Dec 2013

PNG's Wewak township awaits police investigators following rape

6:08 pm on 16 December 2013

People in the Papua New Guinea town of Wewak are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a team of Police Investigators, following the alleged rape of an 18-year old girl by police more than a week ago.

The man in charge of the police team says they will act swiftly and hasn't ruled out suspending officers who are implicated.

But a women's group in the city says the local police force is full of bad elements from the top levels down and the whole organisation needs a shake up.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:

The investigation which has been ordered by the acting Police Commissioner in Port Moresby will also look into the detention of the president of the East Sepik Council of Women, who went to lay an official complaint with members of the girl's family. Sophie Mangae was released on bail yesterday, about a week after she went to the police, however the rape victims parents' and two brothers are still being detained. Ms Mangae has been charged with organising illegal protest activity. The acting assistant police commissioner Donald Yamasombi who will lead a team of investigators says they will be thorough.

"DONALD YAMASOMBI: When we are down in Wewak will be to interview the victim and any witnesses if they are there and also to interview the police officers implicated in the incident and obtain necessary evidence if there's any so as to take necessary action."

The Governor of East Sepik, former prime minister Sir Michael Somare, yesterday met with the provincial police commander, the station commander, town councillor and head of Defence in Wewak. Sir Hugo Berghuser, a former government minister who runs the Windjammer Hotel in Wewak, attended the meeting and believes senior police in the town will act appropriately.

HUGO BERGHUSER: If you are senior officer you will do the right thing, there's no doubt, a police officer will not lie to the former prime minister Sir Michael.

But Florence Parinjo, the vice president of the East Sepik Council of Women, says her group has since met with Sir Michael and they showed him the victim's medical report. She says he now knows the truth after hearing denials from the police. Mrs Parinjo says the local police force is full of dodgy personnel and the Police Department should have intervened earlier.

FLORENCE PARINJO: Now you can't see any good policemen in this province. We are now raising our voice to the police commissioner, we want resuffle for all police personnel in the East Sepik Province. We really want police to come down quickly to Wewak and start investigations.

Donald Yamasombi says their investigation will also examine an incident last Wednesday where it's claimed a drunk solider was severely beaten by police. That triggered an angry response from soldiers who converged on the police station, which shut its doors. This prompted shops to close and there were reports of looting. Mr Yamasombi says he is concerned about the perception of police in Wewak and wants trust restored.

DONALD YAMASOMBI: I'm not taking that lightly, when you don't have trust in the police then who else would you have trust in. The police are there for a purpose and they should be looked upon to provide that mandated duty to the people.

These latest incidents come amid stated commitments by the police hierarchy to weed out criminal elements within the constabulary.