Tear-gas fired ahead of raid on Viet camp

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 1995, 12:00am

TEAR-GAS was fired during rioting at High Island detention centre early this morning . . . just a few hours before hundreds of police officers were due to evict about 100 Vietnamese ready for forced repatriation.

The disturbance began when about 50 boat people broke out into a compound near the camp administration building and began setting fires.

Around 40 tear-gas grenades were fired when Correctional Services Department (CSD) and police officers, most in full riot gear, learned that the inmates had taken several liquefied petroleum gas cylinders into the compound and were trying to explode them.

The volley of tear-gas came as rioters ignored commands from CSD officers to leave the LPG cylinders and return to their own section. Instead, they climbed on to nearby hut, until forced down by heavy rain.

This morning's trouble will have come as little surprise to CSD officers, told to expect the worst during today's eviction operation.

Many of those targeted for removal today were at the centre of rioting during operations to transfer them out of Whitehead detention centre last month, when 200 officers were injured and more than 3,000 tear-gas grenades fired.

It is understood that today's raid, which comes at a time of high tension among the Vietnamese population, is part of a wider plan to convince the United States Congress to quash proposals which have de-railed Hong Kong's repatriation programme.

Moves in Congress to resettle up to 20,000 boat people in the US has all but stopped boat people from volunteering for repatriation . . . and making those due to forcible deportation even more determined to resist.

Today's surprise raid was due to begin at 7 am with the announcement of those inmates targeted for removal to Victoria Prison. They were to be given three hours to give themselves up or security forces would be sent in to get them.

A similar operation at High Island last month saw 38 Vietnamese put up fierce resistance after being given prior notice of the raid. Several officers were injured when protesters hurled burning charcoal cookers from the rooftops.

This response has prompted the Security Branch to decide that prior notice only gave the Vietnamese time to prepare resistance.

Today's raid coincides with a scheduled inquiry by legislators into delays in issuing legal aid to hundreds of Vietnamese injured in a raid at Whitehead last year.

Refugees Co-ordinator Brian Bresnihan was to have answered crucial questions on the issue but withdrew at the last moment.

Refugee Concern lawyer Rob Brook last night criticised the Government for removing people at a time when tensions were running high after last month's raids and while the Vietnamese were awaiting a decision from Congress.

Mr Brook said he believed today's raid was aimed at 'embarrassing the hell out of US Congressmen so they squash this proposal which has stopped repatriation'.

'The Government has not missed an opportunity to blame the recent resistance on the US proposal and this is just to make sure this bill doesn't get through,' he said.

'The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also has to take responsibility for this, they always try to distance themselves from deportations.'