Bali prison riot hostage fears

2012-02-23 20:36

Bali - Indonesia started moving foreign inmates, women and children out of an overcrowded prison on Bali island Thursday after two days of rioting, officials said, as troops backed by water canons and armoured vehicles surrounded the tense facility.

Schapelle Corby and several other Australians serving time for drug trafficking refused to go, saying it would be too hard to adjust to new surroundings, said Bambang Krisbanu, a security official at the justice ministry.

He said evacuations - with inmates loaded onto giant trucks - would be gradual and voluntary.

The violence that erupted late on Tuesday at the Kerobokan jail - which houses more than 1 000 drug traffickers, sex offenders and other violent criminals - was triggered by the stabbing of an inmate during a brawl a week ago.

The prisoners wanted to know how a knife made its way in. They blamed guards, saying security was too lax.

By Wednesday night, the inmates had chased away all 13 guards and seized full control of the compound, said Beny Arjanto, the local police chief.

Some climbed to the top of the watch tower and started throwing rocks and a Molotov cocktail at more than 500 soldiers and police stationed outside. Others tried to break down the front gates.

Troops responded by firing tear gas and shots in the air. Others stormed the facility, but they were forced back out 10 minutes later, said Arjanto.

A few inmates have been injured, he said, but none of them seriously.

Hostage fears

So far, all 60 foreigners were safe.

The decision to relocate them - and 120 women and 13 children - to a prison elsewhere on the island was made as it became clear on Thursday that tensions were not going to ease any time soon.

"We want to evacuate them immediately for their own safety," said Wing Handoko, a military spokesperson. "We need to make sure they aren't used by other prisoners to get international attention or as bargaining chips for their demands.

"We don't want them to be taken hostage."

Though he would not say exactly where they would go, another police officer told The Associated Press they were heading for Klungkung, a jail about 70km away.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

The Kerobokan prison about 20 minutes from Bali's international airport was built for around 300 prisoners but houses more than three times that. Of the 60 or so foreigners, 12 are Australians and one is American, said Anang Khuzairi, a prison official.

Corby, a former beauty school student who was given a 20-year sentence for smuggling 4.2kg of marijuana into Bali, is the most famous. Her case triggered intense media interest in Australia, where many people believe she was innocent.

Krisbanu said she and the other Australian inmates insisted they did not want to be moved.

They said they were worried it would be hard to adjust to a new prison.

"We cannot and will not force them," Krisbanu said.

- AP
Read more on:    indonesia  |  narcotics
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