Asia

Papua New Guinea mutiny leader Yaura Sasa arrested

Colonel Yaura Sasa speaking on TV in Port Moresby (26 Jan 2012) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Col Yaura Sasa maintains he was acting under government orders

The retired colonel who led a failed military revolt in Papua New Guinea has been arrested and charged with mutineering.

Col Yaura Sasa and about 20 soldiers took over an army barracks last week.

They briefly held the head of the armed forces hostage in support of demands to oust Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and reinstate deposed PM Michael Somare.

Col Sasa has said he does not regret his actions and that they had been ordered by Sir Michael.

The incident was the latest conflict in a six-month power tussle between Mr O'Neill and Sir Michael.

A police spokesman said Col Sasa was found in a suburb of the capital, Port Moresby, on Saturday night and went to the police station voluntarily.

"He was co-operative. After the interview he was arrested and charged," said Supt Dominic Kakas.

None of the colonel's supporters have been arrested, said police. Some of the small group of soldiers who backed him in the mutiny attempt remain holed up at the Taurama barracks, outside Port Moresby, and are reportedly demanding a full pardon.

'I must stop this'

Supt Kakas said Col Sasa had been urged to speak to his supporters and "make sure that they lay down their arms and let the courts deal with the issue".

As he arrived at court to be charged, Col Sasa said he was not guilty of the charges and that he had been "carrying out the government's orders".

"The state ordered me to do it," Australia's ABC News quoted him as saying.

He warned that the soldiers loyal to him could resort to violence if he was not able to see them.

"I must go and talk to the troops to stop this. Because my absence can mean something. I must stop this. I must stop this situation from getting out of hand," he told reporters.

Sir Michael has not publicly commented on the developments.

The leadership crisis began after Sir Michael left Papua New Guinea in March 2011 to receive treatment for a heart condition and remained away for five months. His family said he was standing down from politics, but later denied this.

The prime ministerial post was declared vacant in August and Mr O'Neill was elected by 70 votes to 24, replacing acting Prime Minister Sam Abal.

But a Supreme Court ruling in December 2011 stated that parliament had acted illegally by electing Mr O'Neill prime minister. The court also ruled in a 3-2 decision that Sir Michael should be ''restored to the office of prime minister''.

On Sunday, Sir Michael repeated his call to be reinstated, but Mr O'Neill, who is backed by the civil service and effectively running the country, has refused to step down.

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