Some of Papua New Guinea's most notorious criminals have escaped from a maximum security unit just ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, officials said today. Twelve prisoners, including three on death row, broke out of Bomana prison outside the capital Port Moresby early yesterday after a woman posing as a lawyer smuggled in a gun. They are all still at large, a government source said.
"The 12 hardcore criminals were kept in maximum security," she said. Security has been stepped up in the impoverished but resource-rich South Pacific island nation, where police are on "high alert" ahead of Mrs Clinton's six-hour visit tomorrow, the source added. Reports said PNG's most dangerous underworld figure, William Kapris, who was awaiting trial over bank robberies and also stands accused of rape, a plane hijacking and a police officer's murder, was among those on the loose.
PNG officials reportedly described the break-out, which follows another involving 40 prisoners from Bomana last month, as a national security issue. The Business Council of Papua New Guinea emailed its members urging them to take extra precautions when moving around Port Moresby, previously described by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the worst city in the world to live. Mrs Clinton's stopover in Port Moresby, during which she will meet with the prime minister Michael Somare, is the first by a US secretary of state since 1998.
PNG's escalating HIV/AIDS problem, women's empowerment and climate change are on the agenda along with bilateral cooperation. "Apart from being First Lady for 12 years, Ms Clinton has been a successful advocate, attorney and senator in her own right. As such Ms Clinton has a keen interest in social and welfare issues," Mr Somare said. "She will have the opportunity during her visit to also speak to women leaders on issues affecting women ... I urge everyone to once again ensure that the state secretary's visit is successful and memorable."
The talks come with trade between the United States and PNG rising, as major oil companies work to unlock the mountainous country's vast energy reserves in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). "Through the establishment of our LNG projects and the recent foreign direct investment of US$3 billion (Dh11.1bn), the US is now PNG's second-largest trading partner," Mr Somare said. After PNG, Clinton is to visit New Zealand and Australia.