BY SAMIE WAIKORI
A POLICE operation staged in the early hours of yesterday to capture Knoxly Atu, leader of the Auki-based activist group, failed after officers involved faced resistance from villagers.
Up to 20 officers from the Police Response Team (PRT) travelled to Bethel village in east Fataleka, Malaita, to arrest Knoxly, the man police believed was behind last November’s rioting in Honiara.
“They failed to capture Atu,” villager and eye-witness Danny Dania told Island Sun in provincial capital Auki, yesterday.
“The fully armed PRT guys arrived between 4am and 5am. Their arrival woken up the whole village,” Dania added.
“It was early in the morning so we were still in our sleep when we shockingly woke to rounds of bullets fired – around eight times as they took the village.
“I don’t know whether the bullets were fired as warning shots or just to scare us off, but as we got out of our house they started to shot tear-gases at us and into our houses.
“Villagers especially women and elderly people began to escape, children were crying and we were panic just to wake to an unpleasant situation.
“The situation was scary with the use of the weapons and despite gestures of pleas for talks, no one listened.”
Dania said instead, the aggression continues and that turned the villagers into anger, which led to a confrontation.
He said the villagers began to clash with the team and the situation grew tense as the team pulled more tear-gases and rubber bullets at the villagers.
Dania said villagers responded by picking up whatever they found around them like stones and other weapons and threw at the team.
He said the team began to retreat as the villagers built up numbers with intense exchange of rubber bullets and stones from each side.
Dania said the villagers overran the team and with fear of casualty, because two of them had already injured, they began to retreat and left for their safety.
He claimed the PRT team was driven for more than 10kms from Bethel to Onelafa to get to their boats.
He said at Onelafa, a police stabby craft and four other speed boats were on standby to pick them up.
Dania said the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on villagers was simply unacceptable, adding the community would meet raise the matter with relevant authorities.
Both police in Auki and Honiara refused to comment on the incident when Island Sun contacted them yesterday, saying a statement will be issued later.