Papua New Guinea parries coup plots
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea
Rebel commander Colonel Yaura Sasa speaks in Port Moresby Jan 26 demanding former Prime Minister Michael Somare be reinstated as leader of the country. REUTERS photoPapua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said yesterday a military mutiny was over and the government had regained full control of its military barracks.
O’Neill told reporters that military commander Francis Agwi had been freed from house arrest and was back in charge of the army after a mutiny by up to 30 soldiers, backed by former Prime Minister Michael Somare, earlier in the day. “The commander is now released, he’s not under house arrest. And as a result the government has taken full control of the defense headquarters,” O’Neill said. Earlier, rebel soldiers seized the military’s headquarters and replaced Papua New Guinea’s top defense official with their own leader, who gave O’Neill a week to step aside for his ousted predecessor.
The dramatic move appeared to be connected with a power struggle between former Prime Minister Michael Somare and sitting Prime Minister Peter O’Neill over leadership of the resource-rich but impoverished country. The self-proclaimed new leader of the country’s defense forces, retired Col. Yaura Sasa, insisted he was not mounting a coup, describing his actions as the “normal process of replacement of commander by the government.”
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But he warned that the military will take unspecified action unless O’Neill stands down and Somare is reinstated as the national Supreme Court ordered last month. The government called on Sasa and said the mutiny did not have support from the broader military. Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah told reporters that about 30 soldiers were involved in the mutiny and 15 of them have been arrested. Namah said Sasa could be charged with treason, which carries the death sentence. Somare, 75, was removed from office while out of the country recovering from illness last year only to later be declared the rightful leader by the Pacific nation’s Supreme Court, throwing PNG into political turmoil.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.