|Police say the mutinous troops, at the Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby, have asked for a pardon [Reuters]
The commander of the Papua New Guinea military has been released by the 20 soldiers who staged a mutiny on Thursday, but they have refused to relinquish their arms until they are granted full pardons.
Peter O’Neill, the South Pacific nation’s incumbent prime minister, has announced that Brigadier-General Francis Agawi, head of the Papua New Guinea armed forces, was released several hours after the bloodless mutiny began.
He said Agawi remained in charge of the country’s military following his release.
O’Neill said that Yuara Sasa, a retired colonel who had led the group that put Agawi under house arrest, had been “dealt with” but would not elaborate further.
Speaking from Sydney, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas said on Friday that Sasa is thought to have gone missing and that the situation remains volatile.
“In response to the calls for pardon, O’Neill told Sasa: ‘You can’t hold a gun to the head of the armed forces and expect to get away with it’,” our correspondent reported quoting the PNG prime minister.
Dominic Kakas, a police spokesman, said Sasa and his men, who are at the Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, had requested for a pardon.
“That is correct, yes,” Kakas said. “They are trying to sort something out.”
The mutiny was part of a power struggle between O’Neill and Michael Somare, a former prime minister, for whom O’Neill had served as treasurer, with both claiming to be the rightful ruler of the country.
Sasa said in Port Moresby on Thursday that he was giving O’Neill seven days to comply with an order of the supreme court reinstating Somare.
The December 12 finding of the supreme court stated that the August 2011 removal of Somare from office was unlawful.
Belden Namah, the PNG deputy prime minister, said on Thursday that Sasa could face treason charges, which carries a death sentence.
Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia, PNG’s main provider of foreign aid, condemned the mutiny in a written statement.
Gillard said that the military has no place in PNG’s politics.
“It is critical therefore that this situation be resolved peacefully as soon as possible, with the PNG Defence Force chain of command restored,” she said.
PNG, which has a population of six million, has a history of political and military unrest. An army mutiny in 1997 overthrew the government after it employed mercenaries to try and end a long-running secessionist rebellion on the island of Bougainville.