26 Jan 2012

Sasa leads mutiny to enforce PNG Supreme Court ruling

5:28 pm on 26 January 2012

The man claiming to be the new commander of Papua New Guinea's defence Force says it's his aim to ensure last month's Supreme Court ruling on the legitimacy of the government is complied with.

Brigadier Yaura Sasa and a group of about 20 soldiers put Brigadier-General Francis Agwi under house arrest at Murray Barracks in the latest move linked to the power struggle between two political camps claiming to be PNG's government.

Johnny Blades reports

Key institutions are siding with Peter O'Neill who took control last August, while the veteran politician Sir Michael Somare insists that the court ruling makes him the legitimate Prime Minister.

Brigadier Sasa says he has been appointed Commander by Sir Michael's government

"I have met with the former Commander, Brigadier-General Agwi. I have served him with the documents frmo the government rescinding his appointment, given the situation at hand where there are two Prime Ministers, two governments. So my purpose of coming in to take up the Command is to go in and restore the court's decision, to restore Prime Minister Somare, and that is what I am doing now."

However the PNGDF Chief of Staff Captain Tom Ur insists that Francis Agwi remains the Commander and says negotiations are underway with the faction backing Brigadier Sasa to give up what is in effect a mutiny.

I'm still Chief of Staff and I'm still issuing orders as Chief of Staff. We have only one Commander. If we don't see any legal instruments and all that, we are not taking orders from renegade soldiers. Hopefully they come to their senses and stand down.

PNG's former defence attaché to Indonesia, Brigadier Sasa denies that he has conducted a mutiny.

It looks as though it's a military coup but it is not a military coup. I'm restoring, I'm intervening to restore the constitution. And the risk I'm taking is I must restore the constitution of the independent state of PNG. Everybody, the politicians and even our bureaucrats, are making a football out of the constitution. The highest court of the nation has made the ruling. Now who is supporting this?

Brigadier Sasa says he doesn't plan to use force to ensure compliance with the Constitution but has given both political groups a seven-day deadline to sort out the issue in parliament.

The call for parliament to resolve the government crisis was echoed by the former PNGDF Commander Jerry Singirok who says the continuing political standoff is badly undermining PNG's key institutions.

Commentators had earlier praised the military for not getting involved in the standoff but now General Singirok is deeply concerned about where the military's involvement in the issue will lead to.

Once the military gets involved in a political system, then you've lost democracy. I hope that whatever instructions that he (Sasa) has got, that he's not thinking about controlling the country militarily because you cannot do that. PNG prefers to be a democratic country. I've worked with Colonel Sasa and I know of him as a professional military officer but this new chain of events is something that's taken us all by surprise.

Meanwhile, Captain Ur says there is no physical standoff and that it's business-as-usual at Murray Barracks.

Reports emerging from Port Moresby say police have arrested a number of Brigadier Sasa's faction.