Killings take place in the Pacific nations second largest city of Lae after 77 people break out of notorious Buimo jail
Seventeen prisoners have been shot dead and dozens are still at large after a mass escape at Papua New Guinean jail.
At least 77 male prisoners from the notoriously overcrowded prison in the city of Lae attempted a mass escape on Friday morning. Only three were apprehended, and 57 remain at large. PNG police said details were still sketchy but noted reports which said authorities shot the men.
These are undesirable people and will be a threat to the community, Lae police metropolitan commander Chief Superintendent Anthony Wagambie Jr said of the escapees. The majority of those who escaped were arrested for serious crimes and were in custody awaiting trial.
A good number were arrested by police last year for mainly armed robberies, car thefts, break and enter and stealing.
Wagambie Jr said he was in Port Moresby at the time of the breakout but a joint security operation by correctional services and the police was working to rearrest the escapees.
The Australian head of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said the shooting was deeply disturbing.
Arresting escaped prisoners is difficult and dangerous work, but Papua New Guinea authorities dont have a licence to kill, Pearson told the Guardian.
Its important that PNG authorities impartially investigate the prison break and circumstances around the killing of 17 prisoners. The government should identify and hold to account those responsible for using unnecessary or excessive force.
Local media reports the bodies are being held at the Angau memorial hospital morgue, under guard.
Residents of Lae, PNGs second biggest city, have again been warned of an increase in already high rates of crime.
Buimo prison has seen frequent mass escapes in recent years. Eleven men were killed and 17 wounded in February last year when almost 100 people stormed the gates.
The PNG prison system, and Buimo in particular, has been criticised for poor conditions and overcrowding.
PNG broadcaster, EMTV, reported the Lae prison held more than double its 400 capacity in February this year.
Wagambie Jr warned members of the community not to shelter absconders. He also expressed concern about a rise in crime ahead of the upcoming PNG national elections.
The head of the Buimo prison has refused to comment to local media.