Santo court case on Big Bay Bush incident delayed

Sixteen people accused of involvement in an incident at Big Bay Bush on Santo three weeks ago have been released on bail by the Santo Magistrates Court.

Commander Chief Inspector Sanma Police Patrol, Rexton Langon, says the Magistrates Court was not able to hear the Preliminary Inquiry of the case on Thursday.

This was because the prosecution requested more time to prepare the case because of the large number of suspects and the variety of charges against them.

The charges against the suspects are unlawful assembly, assault, riot, theft and obstructing police officers.

The suspects will appear again in court on 5 August for the Preliminary Inquiry.

Commander Langon says the defendants applied to the court for their release and the court has granted their application on conditions.

He says the conditions are for the suspects: not to interfere with prosecution witnesses; they must cooperate with police investigations; and attend the Luganville Police Station every Friday to ensure that they stay in touch.

“We will wait for the prosecution to compile all the charges together before they could continue with the Preliminary Inquiry on 5 August,” he said.

Police say a community disturbance erupted at Big Bay Bush on 19 June allegedly over kava and land disputes.

Community members allege police who attended the incident inflicted violence and burnt down homes.

Fourteen Vanuatu Police Force members from Santo have been suspended over the allegations and an investigation into their alleged actions is also continuing.

Pastor Gabriel Puneret, from Big Bay Bush, says the seven families who lost houses and properties during the incident, are still staying with relatives and neighbors.

He claims children from the community who had school items destroyed have not been able to attend school since the incident despite a pledge from education authorities that the items would be replaced.

Pastor Puneret says a business house in Santo Espiritu has supported the victims with some mattress and kitchen utensils.

“The business house has given the victims six mattresses, two double and four single mattresses. They have handed it to me and I have given it to the victims last week along with plates and dishes,” he said.

He says a missionary has also provided six sleeping bags for the victims as well.

Many of the victims who have sought shelter at the Luganville Baptist Church immediately after the incident have returned to Big Bay Bush.

Investigations on the 14 suspended Vanuatu Police Force members from Santo of allegation of police violence is ongoing.

Vanuatu law states police officers who are found to have been violent in the course of their job must be dismissed from the force.

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