As many as 20 rebel soldiers early today detained the head of the defense force, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said, citing an unidentified senior military official. The leader of the mutiny demanded parliament restore ousted Prime Minister Michael Somare to office, the Australian newspaper reported.
“We are concerned about these developments,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in an e-mailed statement. The department said it understood that talks within the Papua New Guinea military are taking place to resolve the matter following “disturbances” at barracks in the capital.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), operator of a $15.7 billion liquefied natural gas venture in the country, Rio Tinto Group, Harmony Gold Mining Co. (HAR) and Newcrest Mining Co. are among miners and explorers with operations on the island that has experienced political unrest since Somare lost office last August. He was ousted and replaced by Peter O’Neill, while he received medical treatment in Singapore, according to the ABC.
Somare ordered the leader of the mutiny, Colonel Yaura Sasa, to take control of the army, the Australian reported, citing text messages sent to reporters today by Somare’s daughter. Sasa may be in control of as many as 100 soldiers, the newspaper said, citing a police spokesman. At Murray Barracks in Port Moresby, the gates were locked in case O’Neill and troops loyal to him arrived, according to the report.
O’Neill has remained the effective prime minister, with the support of the public service, police, defense force and most lawmakers, even after the Supreme Court ordered Somare’s reinstatement in December, the broadcaster said.
Australia’s High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Ian Kemish, has spoken to O’Neill, who said authorities were taking steps to “manage the situation,” DFAT said. The department advised Australians to limit travel in Port Moresby today.
Sasa, a former defense attache to Indonesia, told reporters in the city he had taken control of the military and gave politicians seven days to decide who is in charge of the country, the Australian reported.
“My task is restoring the integrity and respect of the constitution and the judiciary,” Sasa was cited as saying. “I am now calling on the head of state to immediately implement Sir Michael’s post as prime minister.”
There have been no reports of any injuries, the Australian said.
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