Rebel Leader Demands Return of Former Papua New Guinea PM

Posted January 26th, 2012 at 2:35 am (UTC-5)
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A retired military commander who claims to have taken over Papua New Guinea's armed forces has given a seven-day deadline for the government to re-instate former Prime Minister Michael Somare.

Reports say Yaura Sasa and a group of rebel soldiers seized a military barracks in the capital, Port Moresby, on Thursday before taking over the military headquarters and placing the head of the army under house arrest. No violence has been reported.

At a Thursday news conference in the commander's office, Sasa called on the country's governor general to comply with last month's Supreme Court ruling that said Mr. Somare had been illegally removed from office while seeking medical attention out of the country.

“I am also calling on the head of state to immediately implement the Supreme Court decision relating to Sir Michael Somare's position as the prime minister of Papua New Guinea.”

Governor General Michael Ogio initially supported the ruling and re-instated Mr. Somare as prime minister, leaving two alternate governments fighting for power. He later changed his mind, saying bad legal advice had led him to re-instate Mr. Somare.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill eventually resumed the prime ministership, but Mr. Somare says he remains the country's legitimate leader.

Sasa said Thursday he may be forced to take unspecified “necessary action” unless Prime Minister O'Neill steps down and recognizes Mr. Somare within seven days.

“There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of our Papua New Guineans that so much damage has already been done….I cannot allow this situation to continue.”

Sara insists that his takeover is not a coup, instead describing it as “the normal process of replacement of commander by the government.”

“I assure the international community, our investors, please convey to them, this is not a military coup. I am only intervening to uphold the constitution.”

Prime Minister O'Neill is expected to hold a news conference later Thursday to address the matter.

Some observers say that early elections may be the best way to solve the political standoff. Elections are currently scheduled for June 2012.