PNG mutineers 'seek pardon' amid power tussle

  • Published
Media caption,
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told EMTV that Thursday's events were "completely unnecessary"

A group of soldiers who staged a failed mutiny in Papua New Guinea on Thursday are demanding a full pardon, Australian media reports say.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said that the attempt in Port Moresby was ''a desperate act''.

The group of up to 20 soldiers demanded the reinstatement of ousted PM Sir Michael Somare.

The incident related to the conflict between Mr O'Neill and Sir Michael, who both claim the PM role.

The two men have been wrangling over the South Pacific nation's top job for six months.

After announcing to reporters that the mutiny had been put down, Mr O'Neill hit out at his rival, saying that the incident had turned the country into a joke.

"Papua New Guinea deserves better from Somare," he said.

"Somare has to realise that this country has looked after him for 45 years; now it is his turn to respect the country that respects him.''

Sir Michael, on the other hand, called for the army and police to ''comply with the orders of the Supreme Court'' and support his administration as the ''legitimate government''.

''We cannot allow this situation to continue where a rogue government commandeers the disciplinary forces," he said, in report on Friday in PNG's The National newspaper.

Power tussle

The mutiny attempt took place early on Thursday morning when the soldiers overpowered guards at Taurama barracks and took the commanding officer there captive.

They then moved to Murray Barracks, placing the head of the defence forces, Brigadier General Francis Agwi, under house arrest.

The leader of the mutiny, retired Colonel Yaura Sasa, then declared himself commander. He held a press conference at military headquarters, denying staging a mutiny and saying instead that he was appointed by Sir Michael's government.

He also demanded that Sir Michael be reinstated in a week, warning of "actions" if this did not happen.

But by Thursday afternoon, Mr O'Neill said that Brig Gen Agwi was free and Col Sasa was being "dealt with". It is not clear what that entails.

"We will now start an investigation into the issues that the soldiers have, and we'll resolve them as we move forward," he told Australian broadcaster ABC News.

Reports say the mutineers remain at Taurama barracks and are demanding a full pardon.

Supreme court ruling

The incident is the latest conflict in a power tussle between Mr O'Neill and Sir Michael.

Image source, bbc

Sir Michael left Papua New Guinea in March 2011 to receive treatment for a heart condition. In June, his family announced he was standing down from politics, a move he later said had been taken without consulting him.

He remained out of the country for five months and in August, MPs declared the position vacant and that Sir Michael was no longer an MP. Mr O'Neill was elected by 70 votes to 24, replacing acting Prime Minister Sam Abal.

A Supreme Court ruling in December 2011 then stated that parliament had acted illegally by electing Mr O'Neill prime minister. The court also ruled in a 3-2 decision that Sir Michael should be ''restored to the office of prime minister''.

Mr O'Neill, who is backed by the civil service and effectively running the country, refused to step down.

Most observers do not expect the conflict between the two camps to be resolved soon.

It is likely that this situation will remain until the country's elections, due to be held in the middle of the year, Liam Fox, ABC News' correspondent in PNG, told the BBC.