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Papua New Guinea army chief seized in mutiny
Mutineers given ultimatum after troops put chief commander under house arrest and replace him with their own leader.
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2012 05:38
Soldiers under the command of Colonel Sasa raided army headquarters on Thursday [EPA]

A military faction in Papua New Guinea that backs a former prime minister has staged an apparently bloodless mutiny and installed a new military leader in the South Pacific's most populous island nation.

Rebel troops raided the headquarters of the defence forces in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, in the early hours of Thursday.

They put Brigadier-General Francis Agwi, the head of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, under house arrest and replaced him with a new commander.

The self-proclaimed new commander, retired Colonel Yaura Sasa, insisted he was not mounting a coup. But he said that the military will take unspecified action unless Peter O'Neill, the prime minister, stands down and Michael Somare, a former prime minister, is reinstated, as ordered by the national supreme court last month.

"Both Sir Michael Somare and O'Neill have seven days to implement the supreme court's orders to resolve the current political impasse or I will be forced to take actions to uphold the integrity of the constitution,'' Sasa said in Port Moresby.

For his part, O'Neil's deputy said that Sasa had until 06:00 GMT to give himself up or "face the consequences".

He said 15 of the 30 soldiers involved in the mutiny had been arrested.

Power struggle

Al Jazeera's Andrew Thomas, reporting from neighbouring Australia, said O'Neil is the de-facto prime minister.

 

"He has control of most of the civil services, the majority in parliament, the police, and until these last few hours, it was thought, of pretty much the whole army too", he said.

Australia called for a restoration in the line of command in Papua New Guinea's defence forces.

"We urge that the situation be resolved as soon as possible, and that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force chain of command is restored," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The developments follow weeks of political instability, with Somare challenging the legitimacy of O'Neill's government.

Somare had been replaced by O'Neill last August after his seat was declared vacant while he received medical treatment in Singapore.

Last month, O'Neill declared victory in the confrontation after the governor-general named him the legitimate head of government. The country's civil service, police and army leaders also backed O'Neill.

For many Papua New Guineans, the crisis is a contest between the old political guard of Somare - known as "the chief" who led the country to independence - and O'Neill's administration, which is seen offering a fresh, more open alternative.

Elections are due in June.

The turmoil is jeopardising South Pacific nation's prospects as an investment destination just as the US oil giant ExxonMobil develops a $5.7bn liquefied natural gas plant, the country's biggest-ever resource project.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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