PNG ex-commander 'seizes' control of army
Port Moresby – A retired military commander in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on Thursday
claimed to have seized control of the country's armed forces and demanded that
ousted prime minister Michael Somare be reinstated.
Retired colonel Yaura Sasa held a news conference at military headquarters
in the capital, Port Moresby, to declare himself leader following what media
reports described as a "mutiny" at the city's Taurama barracks.
"My task is restoring the integrity and respect of the constitution and
the judiciary," Sasa told reporters at the commander's office.
"I am now calling on the head of state to immediately implement the
Supreme Court decision relating to Sir Michael Somare's position as the prime
Sasa demanded sitting Prime Minister Peter O'Neill recall parliament and set
a seven-day deadline for MPs to reinstate Somare as leader.
"I cannot allow this situation to continue to prevail... If this call
is not heeded I may be forced to take necessary actions to protect and uphold
the integrity of the constitution."
History of violence
Sasa would not comment on what sorts of actions he was referring to.
The resource-rich but impoverished country has a history of violence and
intrigue and has been struggling to throw off its reputation as a politically
dysfunctional and often lawless nation.
Somare, aged 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.
O'Neill eventually resumed the prime ministership after Governor General
Michael Ogio admitted he had been wrong to reappoint Somare leader following
the Supreme Court ruling.
At the height of the crisis PNG had two prime ministers, two
governors-general, two cabinets and two police chiefs.
Somare has consistently refused to recognise O'Neill's leadership, storming
into the nation's parliament as recently as last week with the Supreme Court's
order and demanding he be reinstated.
Known as the "Grand Chief", Somare led PNG for almost half of its
36 years of independence.
Though he was appointed by Somare, Sasa - formerly PNG's defence attaché to
Indonesia - said he was a "neutral" party.
He denied his actions were a "military coup" or takeover,
describing them instead as the "normal process of replacement of commander
by the government".
"The most important task is to restore the integrity and respect for
the constitution and the judiciary of the independent state of Papua New
Guinea," Sasa said.
"I assure the international community, our investors, this is not a
military coup. I am intervening to uphold the constitution and I have my
intentions made known and that the two parties comply with this promptly."
O'Neill's office was unable to immediately comment on Thursday's military
unrest but Australia's foreign office confirmed that there had been
"disturbances" at Port Moresby's military barracks.
Discussions under way
"We are concerned about these developments overnight in Port
Moresby," a foreign office spokesperson said.
"We urge that the situation be resolved as soon as possible, and that
the PNGDF chain of command is restored."
O'Neill had assured Australia's ambassador that "authorities were
taking steps to manage the situation" and the Australian defence attaché
had also spoken to Commander Francis Agwi, who was deposed in the mutiny, she
"We understand that discussions are underway within the PNGDF to
resolve the matter," Australia's foreign office spokesperson said.
Sasa said he had met with Agwi and served him with documents from the
government rescinding his appointment, with an official handover of duties to
take place later on Thursday.
He denied Agwi was under house arrest or that any threats had been
But PNG Defence Force chief of staff Captain Tom Ur told Radio New Zealand
Agwi remained in charge and negotiations were underway with what he described
as a small faction of disaffected Sasa supporters.