Soldiers urged to ‘lay down arms’ after PNG mutiny

AFP and AP

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — Papua New Guinea’s police called for soldiers to “lay down their arms” and let a leadership tussle be decided lawfully Sunday after arresting an ex-colonel over an attempted uprising. Yaura Sasa was arrested in Port Moresby overnight after leading a rebellion which saw the nation’s military chief, Francis Agwi, taken captive and Sasa declaring himself new commander of the PNG defense force.

Sasa led a small group of soldiers in a mutiny Thursday. The mutiny was part of a power struggle in which Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and former Prime Minister Michael Somare claim to be the rightful leader of the South Pacific nation. Sasa demanded the reinstatement of veteran leader Michael Somare, who was replaced as prime minister during a lengthy overseas trip for surgery, laying down a seven-day deadline and warning that “necessary actions” would follow. But the uprising was quashed before the day was out, with Agwi freed and 15 of Sasa’s 30 men placed under arrest. Police spokesman Dominic Kakas said Sasa was captured at a lodge in suburban Boroko on Saturday night and charged with inciting mutiny, a crime which carries a maximum term of life imprisonment. Kakas said Sasa willingly submitted to an interview and police asked him to instruct his fellow soldiers to stay out of the country’s leadership tussle after Somare called for the military to take up his cause. “We can’t rule out that possibility,” Kakas said of further mutinies. “We have actually taken the opportunity to appeal to them through the retired colonel to lay down their arms and allow the courts to decide these issues,” he told AFP. Somare issued a strident statement earlier Sunday urging the police and military to support him. “I appeal to the leaders of our disciplinary forces to look beyond the current circumstances and come to terms with why you (are) a member of a law enforcing agency,” Somare said, according to Australian Associated Press. “You are here first and foremost to uphold and enforce the law of the land and the orders of the Supreme Court.” Somare, 75, won a Supreme Court case against his removal as prime minister last year, plunging the impoverished and sometimes lawless Pacific nation into turmoil after his successor Peter O’Neill refused to step down. Both camps declared themselves the ruling faction, prompting a constitutional crisis which saw the appointment of two prime ministers, two governors-general and two police chiefs. Tensions had largely subsided until Thursday’s events, with O’Neill resuming effective leadership of the country after Governor General Michael Ogio rowed back on his recognition of the Supreme Court ruling.

O’Neill has majority support among MPs and public servants. Formerly PNG’s defense attache to Indonesia, Sasa appeared briefly in the Waigani committal court before being taken to a prison outside the capital where he would be held “until the investigation is complete” Kakas said. Sasa told reporters outside the court that he was not guilty and did not regret his actions, but hoped the situation would now calm down, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Somare stormed into parliament earlier this month demanding the Supreme Court’s ruling that he was the nation’s rightful leader be upheld, and he said Sunday that he had no intention of backing down. “If this is to be my last and biggest battle I will fight for the constitution, the underlying law that holds the very fabric of our democracy and democratic institutions together,” he said.