Government denies Manus rape 'cover-up'

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The Immigration Department denies it allowed three men working at the Manus Island detention centre to return to Australia to escape rape allegations.

Authorities on Manus Island are calling on the Australian government to return three Security officers who face allegations of raping a local employee at the Manus Regional Processing Centre.

The Immigration Department says it was made aware of the allegation earlier this month, but denies the staff were removed to avoid a possible investigation. 

Papua New Guinea authorities issued the government an ultimatum; send back the three personnel accused of rape, or managing staff at the Manus Island detention centre face arrest.

"Any crime that is committed in Papua New Guinea is the responsibility of the RPNGC to investigate. We should investigate and based on those investigation we advise what will happen. That aspect of it has to be respected," said PNG police commissioner Garry Baki.

 The incident allegedly occurred at the centre in mid-July. Three Wilson Security staff were found naked and intoxicated with a local female employee. The men were stood down and returned to Australia.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill he support the call of the country's police commissioner that the men be returned to face questioning as soon as possible.

"I will take this matter up with the Australian government and we will come to the bottom of this. But I agree with the commissioner. He is in charge of this and we have to investigate who sent this person out of the country without him facing the law."

The Australian government is being accused of trying to cover up the incident. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says it's clear the situation on Manus is continuing to deteriorate.

"These are the Australian government's own contractors. They're being paid hundreds of millions, billions of dollars of tax payers money they need to be kept to account," she said.

However the Immigration Department has issued a statement, it says "the implication that the Wilson staff were removed to avoid prosecution, or removed without consultation with relevant PNG authorities, is simply wrong."

The government claims that it consulted with PNG police, and that they jointly agreed the best course of action was to return the men to Australia as no charges had been laid at that time.

It's promised to assist PNG authorities if that should change.

Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre's David Manne says it's crucial the Australian government do all it can to cooperate.

"These are matter which could well affect relations between the two countries because they go to the very heart of PNG being able to operate its criminal justice system."

Manus Island authorities say it will be better for international relations and the men involved if they return voluntarily.

Manus Island MP Ronnie Knight says he is confident the PNG Police Commissioner will lay charges on these allegations. He says they may involve either the men accused of sexual assault or their managers who he says hampered the course of justice by allowing them to leave the country.

"My message is clear that they should be brought back in the chance they have  their side of the story to tell and they should come back and face the music and clear themselves."

Wilson security has referred questions on it's conduct to the Department of Immigration. 

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