Indonesia moves some inmates from riot-hit prison

February 23, 2012 - 9:05 PM
Indonesia Prison Riot

An Indonesian prisoner is escorted by security officers as he is removed from Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Indonesia started moving foreigners and a handful of other inmates from the overcrowded prison on Bali island Thursday after two days of rioting, officials said, as troops backed by water canons and armored vehicles surrounded the tense facility. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian authorities trying to move foreigners, women and children out of a prison hit by two days of riots have returned 13 of them to the tense, overcrowded jail on the resort island of Bali.

The military had said the evacuations were planned for the safety of inmates who could become hostages or international bargaining chips as tensions at the prison showed no signs of easing. Fourteen foreigners who had rejected being transferred were among 31 inmates initially moved out earlier in the evening.

There is no explanation on why the 13 were returned late Thursday, but one police officer said it was the policy of the prison warden. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he had no authority to speak to the media.

Several Australians serving time for drug trafficking had balked at the transfer because they thought adjusting to a new place would be too hard, said Bambang Krisbanu, a security official at the justice ministry.

He said evacuations would be voluntary, but other officials later said the evacuations would apply to all those selected — about 60 foreigners, 120 women and 13 children.

The violence that erupted late Tuesday at the Kerobokan jail — which houses more than 1,000 drug traffickers, sex offenders and other violent criminals — was triggered by the stabbing of an inmate during a brawl a week ago. The prisoners blamed lax security for allowing a knife into the prison.

By Wednesday night, the inmates had chased away all 13 guards and seized full control of the compound, said Beny Arjanto, the local police chief.

Some climbed to the top of the watch tower and started throwing rocks and a Molotov cocktail at more than 500 soldiers and police stationed outside. Others tried to break down the front gates.

Troops responded by firing tear gas and shots in the air. Others stormed the facility, but they were forced back out 10 minutes later, said Arjanto.

A few inmates have been injured, he said, but none of them seriously.

The decision to relocate some prisoners was made as it became clear Thursday that tensions were not going to ease any time soon.

"We want to evacuate them immediately for their own safety," said Col. Wing Handoko, a military spokesman. "We need to make sure they aren't used by other prisoners to get international attention or as bargaining chips for their demands.

"We don't want them to be taken hostage."

Though he would not say exactly where they would go, another police officer told The Associated Press they were heading for Klungkung, a jail about 40 miles (70 kilometers) away.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

The Kerobokan prison about 20 minutes from Bali's international airport was built for around 300 prisoners but houses more than three times that. Of the 60 or so foreigners, 12 are Australians and one is American, said Anang Khuzairi, a prison official.

The most famous is Australian Schapelle Corby, a former beauty school student serving a 20-year sentence for smuggling 9 pounds (4.2 kilograms) of marijuana into Bali. Her case garnered intense interest in Australia, where many people believe she was innocent.

Krisbanu said she and the other Australian inmates insisted they did not want to be moved.

Minister of justice Amir Syamsuddin, who is in Bali overseeing the operation, has requested evacuation of all foreigners, women and children, Handoko said.

No further information was available on the 13 inmates who are younger than 18.