Four held over gang-rape of US academic in PNG

SYDNEY (AFP) - Police in Papua New Guinea have detained four men over the gang-rape of a US academic after a massive manhunt, with officials urging locals on Tuesday to help find five suspects still on the run.

The American woman said she was stripped naked, had her hands bound and was raped by the armed mob last week after they tied up her husband and a guide on a jungle trail on Karkar Island in Madang province.

She spoke about her ordeal to AFP before fleeing back to the United States, in order to raise awareness about rampant violence against women in the desperately poor Pacific country.

"I hope my story can make a change," she said.

Madang provincial police commander Chief Superintendent Sylvester Kalaut told the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG that seven of the men allegedly sexually assaulted the woman while two others kept watch.

"I'm appealing to the law-abiding citizens on Karkar to help police with information so we can have all of the suspects rounded up," he said.

"Obviously it's best for our country.

"Our people are abusing expatriates who are here in the province or the country who are here to provide services to our people."

Brutality against women including domestic violence is endemic in Papua New Guinea, but it is rare for a white woman to be targeted. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment.

The academic's case came barely a week after an Australian was killed and his friend sexually assaulted by a group of men in the Western Highlands. Prime Minister Peter O'Neill condemned the attack as the "cowardly act of animals".

The National newspaper on Tuesday reported that two men were being questioned over that incident, but up to eight remained at large.

As well as the attacks on foreigners, PNG's reputation has been blighted recently by a savage spate of sorcery-related crimes, including murders and beheadings, prompting condemnation from the United Nations.