Armed bandits ransack Papua New Guinea airport, rob passengers

SYDNEY (AFP) - Heavily armed bandits robbed passengers and ransacked an airport in Papua New Guinea on Monday, Australia's Foreign Ministry said, as it warned travellers to be cautious in the country.

Nadzab Airport, about 40km from the port town of Lae, was overrun by the group in the early hours of the morning, with reports saying they held the airport for two hours. "Approximately 30 heavily-armed criminals robbed passengers and caused significant damage to the terminal," Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a travel advisory. "Travellers are reminded that crime rates in PNG remain high, and typically increase in the run-up to Christmas."

Reports said the group armed with pistols, rifles, homemade guns and machetes held about 30 people who were at the airport for an early morning flight at gunpoint before escaping across the runway.

One man was assaulted with a rifle butt as the bandits looted office equipment and food, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. "The nine security guards manning the airport said they were outnumbered and ordered at gunpoint to huddle up with the passengers in front of the terminal," police spokesman David Terry told the broadcaster.

He said the men were unable to break into safe of national carrier Air Niugini.

"The airport authorities are trying to see if anything major was stolen," he added.

Australia's Foreign Ministry said crime rates were high in the mountainous Pacific country, particularly in the capital Port Moresby and in Lae.

A World Bank report released in August found that high levels of crime and violence were causing substantial losses to 80 per cent of businesses in the poverty-hit country, hampering economic development.