Cold War movie

Whitehead ordering 550 out

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 1996, 12:00am

About 550 Vietnamese were this morning being given two hours' notice to pack and leave Whitehead detention centre before hundreds of officers in riot gear go in to remove them.

The group was to be flown back to Vietnam on five deportation flights scheduled to depart this month.

Section Four of the camp, targeted for today's operation, was all quiet yesterday except for some inmates being spotted making weapons.

A search of the camp on Monday turned up about 1,500 weapons including spears, daggers and missiles.

Today's exercise was to be the first major operation since almost 100 Vietnamese escaped from Whitehead in May during a riot which broke out in the hours before a removal operation.

Millions of dollars' damage was sustained and negotiations are continuing over compensation for prison officers whose cars were destroyed by fire.

Efforts to clear several sections of Whitehead have been stepped up to make way for the 6,000 boat people on Tai A Chau who will be moved to the camp in September.

A Correctional Services Department spokesman said yesterday that about 220 Emergency Support Group officers had been assigned to 'standby' duty at the camp today in addition to about 800 police officers.

'We don't know what to expect any more in these operations. The population is very unpredictable so we are prepared for anything,' the spokesman said.

The names of those targeted for repatriation were to be announced at 7 am and the group given until about 9 am to leave voluntarily.

The short notice is a new tactic to avoid giving advance warning and allowing organised resistance by people facing deportation.

The short notice is against recommendations made in a report to the Government in 1994, but it is understood security officials are anxious to avoid a repeat of the May riot.

A group of 169 Vietnamese returned home voluntarily yesterday on a chartered flight under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

A total of 15,263 boat people remain in the territory and must be repatriated before the handover.