, PORT MORESBY, Jan 27 – Ousted Papua New Guinea prime minister Sir Michael Somare has defended ordering a failed military mutiny, again insisting Friday he was the country’s legitimate leader.
Political tensions flared in the resource-rich but impoverished Pacific nation on Thursday when an ex-soldier loyal to Somare staged a dramatic grab to re-take power from current premier Peter O’Neill.
Former colonel Yaura Sasa led a pre-dawn mutiny, taking captive the head of the armed forces, Francis Agwi, and declaring himself the new military leader, reinforcing the country’s reputation as politically dysfunctional.
Sasa set a seven-day deadline for Somare to be restored as leader, warning that he “may be forced to take necessary actions to protect and uphold the integrity of the constitution” if his demand was not met.
But the rebellion was soon put down with O’Neill declaring the crisis over in the evening after arresting 15 of the 30 men loyal to Sasa and securing the withdrawal of the others and the release of Agwi.
O’Neill said Sasa was being “dealt with” by the appropriate authorities with reports on Friday suggesting he was demanding a full pardon for himself and his supporters.
“He is seeking a pardon, that is what is being said, but I can’t confirm that yet,” police Superintendent Dominic Kakas told AFP.
Somare, 75, said the mutiny was a legitimate response to the O’Neill camp not recognising a Supreme Court ruling in December that he was the rightful prime minister.
“We cannot allow this situation to continue where a rogue government commandeers the disciplinary forces,” Somare said in a statement sent by his daughter Betha to AFP.
“It is incumbent on the police and army to comply with the orders of the Supreme Court and support the legitimate government, which is the minority Somare/Agiru government.
“It is for this reason that my government appointed Colonel Yaura Sasa to take control of the PNGDF (Papua New Guinea Defence Force) while we await other outcomes of the court,” he added.
“We are the legitimate government constitutionally formed in 2007 and restored by the five-men Bench of the Supreme Court.”
Known as the “Grand Chief”, Somare led PNG for almost half of its 36 years since independence but was removed from office while out of the country recovering from illness last year.
The Supreme Court subsequently declared him the rightful leader, plunging the country into turmoil before O’Neill eventually resumed the role after Governor General Michael Ogio rowed back on Somare’s appointment.
Somare has consistently refused to recognise O’Neill’s leadership, storming into parliament as recently as last week with the Supreme Court order to demand his reinstatement.
O’Neill said he may move to dissolve parliament next month and go to early polls to end the current political impasse, while lashing out at Somare’s “desperate” tactics.
“Papua New Guinea deserves better from Somare,” he said.
“Somare has to realise that this country has looked after him for 45 years; now it is his turn to respect the country that respects him.”