The top police officer on Manus Island has flatly rejected the Australian immigration minister’s claim that a shooting last Friday was sparked by detainees taking a five-year-old boy into the detention centre.
The regional police commander, David Yapu, told Guardian Australia Peter Dutton’s comments were completely wrong, and maintained that the shooting began when an altercation between navy personnel and asylum seekers escalated.
“It’s a total separate incident altogether,” he said. “The incident that transpired on Friday was because a duty soldier was being assaulted by one of the asylum seekers or refugees.”
Yapu said a young boy had gone to the centre to ask for food about two weeks ago, but he was not led there and was 10, not five. The boy’s parents had not made a complaint, and police were not investigating any link between his visit and the shooting.
But on Thursday, Dutton alleged the shooting occurred after local people witnessed asylum seekers leading a five-year-old boy towards the centre.
“I think there was concern about why the boy was being led, or for what purpose he was being led, away back into the regional processing centre,” he told Sky News.
“I think it’s fair to say that the mood had elevated quite quickly. I think some of the local residents were quite angry about this particular incident and another alleged sexual assault,” he said, while conceding he did not have “full details”.
The comments formed Dutton’s only public statement on the shooting since it happened a week ago.
Dutton’s account, which mirrored a witness’s statement to News Corp last week, was wrong, Yapu said.
On social media detainees also disputed Dutton’s statement, saying the allegation related to an incident two weeks ago when a young boy asked for some food and detainees told him to stay at the doorway while they gathered some up. Benham Satah said several CCTV cameras would have captured the visit and called for Dutton to release the footage.
“Security came to them later that night and asked what [the] child was doing and they explained and security left,” he said.
The Greens senator Nick McKim told Guardian Australia Dutton had been caught telling an “outrageous lie” and should either “resign or be sacked”.
“This is on top of consistent failures to protect vulnerable people to whom he owes a duty of care,” McKim said.
“If he won’t go the PM ought to sack him. This has disturbing echoes of the children overboard lies.”
There have been long-running tensions between the military and police in Papua New Guinea, and in the Manus community hostility towards the asylum seekers and refugees has also reportedly grown, particularly since those detained inside the naval base were given the ability to travel into nearby Lorengau township.
The Manus MP, Ron Knight, predicted at the time there might be violence. There have also been a number of alleged attacks by staff working at the detention centre, including the alleged drugging and gang rape of a PNG woman who worked at the centre by expatriate colleagues, including Australian citizens.
The Kurdish journalist and Manus detainee Behrouz Boochani told the Guardian on Thursday Dutton’s comments were dangerous and could further inflame community tensions.
The navy and police have launched an investigation into the shooting and pledged to bring perpetrators to justice.
Dutton’s office has been contacted for comment.