DENPASAR, Feb 23 – Indonesian authorities said on Thursday they would evacuate foreigners and women from a Bali island prison after rioting inmates retook control of the jail, sparking a tense standoff with security forces.
Several trucks packed with police in full riot gear and dogs arrived outside the Kerobokan prison, currently housing 60 foreigners and 125 women, just after noon, adding to several hundred police and military personnel already stationed there with water cannons and armoured vehicles.
“We will evacuate the foreign and female prisoners soon but we won’t publicise the time. The evacuation could be by land or air but I cannot give you the specifics,” provincial military command spokesman Wing Handoko told AFP.
“We will not storm the prison before they are removed as we fear that their lives will be put at risk,” he added.
Anang Khuzairi, head of security at Kerobokan, said 60 foreigners were being held at the jail.
The prison is home to 1,015 inmates – among them 125 women – more than three times its intended capacity.
The foreigners include 12 convicted Australian drug traffickers, including Schapelle Corby and a group known as the “Bali Nine”, who were caught attempting to smuggle drugs from Bali.
Security forces had stormed the overcrowded prison at dawn on Wednesday to wrest control after a night of arson and stone-throwing, only to lose it again late that night.
Prison worker Aryawan, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name, said it was the biggest riot he had seen in five years at a prison notorious for violence.
“Prison staff are afraid to enter because we are worried that a bigger riot will erupt. This is a mass protest, the biggest over the last five years I’ve worked here,” said Aryawan, a receptionist in his 30s.
In the early hours of Thursday morning an AFP reporter heard three minutes of continuous gunfire unleashed by security forces.
Handoko said that security forces had been firing off volleys into the air all night to make sure the prisoners did not attempt to escape. With the prison sealed off, it was not clear if there were any casualties.
Shortly after the trouble began late Wednesday prison staff were forced out by rock-throwing inmates, a flaming torch of rags wrapped around a pole was hurled from inside the prison and landed near a television broadcaster’s vehicle. It was extinguished before the fire could spread.
Shouting and the rattling of the prison’s inner gates had been heard before police opened fire but after the volley silence descended on the jail, broken by police occasionally firing into the air.
As dawn appeared over a prison that has been without electricity since the trouble first broke out, police again moved armoured vehicles and water cannons outside the jail walls.
The first riots were a distance away from the wings where the Australian prisoners are kept, but it was not clear whether the second night of trouble was any closer to quarters housing foreign inmates.
All 12 Australian prisoners at Kerobokan, including two on death row and six serving life sentences, were safe after the first night’s trouble, Australia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Prison security guard Sugianto told AFP that the Australian consulate in Bali had sent in cartons of food – filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, bread and cheese – for its inmates.
“I came yesterday and heard that people only had one meal because there was no electricity and the kitchen was damaged,” said Ade Mehta, a 28-year-old bank employee who had come to see his father.
“I have brought cooked food and cigarettes for my father but I’ve not been able to see him yet,” he added.
There have been a number of riots at the jail in recent years, including one triggered by a police drug raid in June.
It is one of Indonesia’s most notorious prisons, with a mix of inmates including convicted murderers, sex offenders and others guilty of violent crimes.