* PNG PM O'Neill says military mutiny is over
* O'Neill says government in control of military barracks
* No reports of violence in Port Moresby
By Michael Perry
Jan 26 Papua New Guinea Prime Minister
Peter O'Neill said on Thursday a military mutiny in the Pacific
Islands nation was over and the government had regained full
control of its military barracks, ending a dramatic day in the
country's ongoing political crisis.
Soldiers loyal to former prime minister Michael Somare
staged a mutiny earlier in the day, putting the military
commander under house arrest and demanding O'Neill reinstate
Somare as the leader of the resource-rich South Pacific country.
But O'Neill told reporters in the capital Port Moresby that
military commander had now been released and the rebel soldiers
had withdrawn to their barracks.
"The commander is now released, he's not under house arrest.
And as a result the government has taken full control of the
defence headquarters," O'Neill said.
"We will now start an investigation into the issues that the
soldiers have and we'll resolve them as we move forward."
O'Neill said the mutiny leader, retired Colonel Yaura Sasa,
was being dealt with, but he did not clarify whether Sasa had
Papua New Guinea has for months been gripped in a political
deadlock. O'Neill took office in August after Somare was ruled
ineligible as a member of parliament due to illness and absence
from the legislature.
The Supreme Court in December ruled Somare be reinstated as
a member of parliament. O'Neill rejected the ruling and
parliament again voted him prime minister, leaving the country
with two competing leaders.
In the early hours of Thursday, up to 20 soldiers raided the
main army barracks, seized their chief commander and placed him
under house arrest in an action dubbed Operation Protect the
"I call on the disciplinary forces to ensure public safety
by exercising restraint at all times," Somare said in a
statement announcing he had appointed a new defence force chief
and again declaring he was the legitimate prime minister.
Residents of Port Moresby said the dusty port capital was
quiet but tense throughout the day, with roadblocks around the
main army barracks.
PNG has a history of political and military unrest. An army
mutiny in 1997 overthrew the government after it employed
mercenaries to try to end a long-running secessionist rebellion
on the island of Bougainville, home to a big copper mine.
Sasa called for Somare's reinstatement and set a seven-day
deadline for lawmakers to resolve the constitutional crisis,
warning he "may be forced to take necessary actions".
"I am calling on both Sir Michael Somare and Mr Peter
O'Neill to recall the parliament to sort out the current
political situation," he said.
Elections in PNG are due in June, but O'Neill held out the
possibility of an earlier vote to sort out the crisis.
Parliament is due to reconvene on February 14.
CRISIS JEOPARDISES INVESTMENT
The crisis has jeopardised PNG's prospects as an investment
destination just as U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil develops a
$15.7 billion liquefied natural gas plant, the country's
biggest-ever resource project.
Exxon spokeswoman Rebecca Arnold said the company had been
"At this stage, it's business as usual," she said.
PNG, a country of 6.5 million people, has vast mineral
wealth although 85 percent of its people live a subsistence
village life. Port Moresby is plagued by lawless and often
violent "raskal" gangs of youths.
The military is careful to draw its membership evenly from
regions and clans, ensuring no single ethnic group can take
control or command enough support for a coup.
Neighbouring Australia called for a restoration in the line
of command in the defence forces.
"There is no place for the military in a PNG situation,"
Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who is acting
foreign minister, said on Australian TV.
"The sooner we return to the normal constitutional political
process, the better for Papua New Guinea," Ferguson said, adding
that Australia accepted O'Neill as prime minister.
Last month, O'Neill declared victory in the standoff against
Somare after the governor general named him the legitimate head
of government. The country's civil service, police and army
leaders also backed O'Neill.