Camp swoop tests forces

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 1995, 12:00am

THE closeness of huts at the Whitehead Vietnamese detention centre is expected to create difficulties for security forces faced with protesters taking to the roofs.

At the High Island detention centre, Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers can use mobile aircraft steps to gain access to roofs, but Whitehead's design prevents that.

A CSD source said the only option was to use specially-purchased ladders capable of carrying more than one person at a time.

Boat people have previously linked themselves with ropes and armed themselves with homemade weapons to avoid being removed.

All available CSD officers have been assigned to today's operation but police will provide the largest number of officers.

A specialist team of 200 officers attached to the CSD emergency squad will bolster detention centre staff and be supported by a contingent of about 1,000 police officers equipped with riot shields and tear-gas.

A CSD spokesman said the entire operation was run by CSD and police would only take a more active role if opposition proved fierce.

'If the Vietnamese throw the heavy cookers they have thrown at us before, it will be very difficult. There is also a very big fire hazard posed which we obviously wish to avoid,' the spokesman said.

One senior police officer said the role of police in such operations was to provide manpower to move Vietnamese within the compound of the section and to intervene with force, 'only when resistance reached a level unable to be safely handled by CSD staff'.

Police will not use armoured personnel carriers of the type deployed last year at Whitehead in the violent April 7 operation.

They will rely on the Police Tactical Unit who are specially trained in such operations.

They have tear-gas, smoke grenades and pepper fog at their disposal. The Marine Police will be in waters off the camp and a Government Flying Service helicopter will also be used.

'The men would be going in with a lot of adrenalin pumping which is natural if they know they will be attacked, but their training is such that only a necessary level of force will be exercised and we all hope no force is needed,' he said.

In the wake of last year's Whitehead raid, nearly 400 Vietnamese sought claims for loss of belongings or personal injury.