TWENTY-NINE Bougainvillean men who entered the country illegally escaped Gizo police custody in the early hours of Wednesday following their detention on Tuesday.
Police previously intercepted the men in three boats near Vella la Vella Island in the Western Province and took them into Gizo.
They were detained at the Gizo Police Station overnight while police and immigration officers made checks on their immigration status.
But the men escaped from custody at Gizo Police Station in the early hours of Wednesday.
In a statement the police issued last night, it said a task force of around 100 police officers are dedicated to this operation to ensure public safety and locate the men.
“The men were not arrested for criminal offences but were in custody under our immigration laws,” the statement said.
“While police were dealing with their immigration status, the men escaped.
Additional police resources from Honiara including members of the RSIPF Police Response Team (PRT) and the two RSIPF patrol boats have been deployed to Western Province since the situation arose in the last couple of days.
“We have a large number of officers now searching widely for the men.
“The message is we want to safely return the men into custody because they are foreign citizens without proper immigration approval,” says Commissioner of Police, Matthew Varley.
“We appeal to any relatives or associates of the Bougainvilleans who may be in Gizo and surrounding villages to come forward with any information that they may have on the whereabouts of the men.
“The men do not have immigration approval to be in Solomon Islands and they must comply with our laws as a sovereign country,” says Commissioner Varley.
He adds: “Police will conduct extra high visibility patrols in and around Gizo and I want to assure the community in the township that they are safe and the police will continue to monitor the situation.
“We will also work together with traditional leaders to resolve this matter peacefully and safely.
“We are also engaging extensively with community and church leaders to encourage the men to hand themselves in.”
The Bougainvilleans were allegedly attempting to travel to Gizo and Noro after what they believed was the suspicious death of a relative in Noro on 6 February.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the Bougainvilleans should call Gizo Police Station on 60999 or the Police National Communication Centre on 23666 or toll free 999.
Police assure the people of Western Province and the rest of the country that they are addressing the situation.
Meanwhile reports reaching the paper yesterday said, following the disappearance of the men normal services at Gizo town were affected.
Businesses, shops, schools and other activities were closed throughout the day.