PAPUA NEW GUINEA RETURNS TO NORMAL AS SOLDIERS TURN OVER GUNS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 27, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---The situation at the military barracks in Port Moresby returned to normal yesterday with the completion of the handover of all weapons yesterday morning.

This was confirmed in the afternoon when Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta announced that a special National Executive Council meeting had confirmed an amnesty for the soldiers who took part in the recent unrest in protest against planned Papua New Guinea Defense Force reforms.

At Murray Barracks, where disgruntled soldiers seized weapons on March 14 in protest against the reforms, which called for a drastic reduction in the size of the force, the weapons were handed over to the senior officers.

Corporal Ben Wafia led the "other ranks troops" of the Supply Company in handing in the weapons to their superiors at 11:00 a.m. He threw open the back of a van at Murray Barracks and told Defense Minister Kilroy Genia and acting PNGDF commander Brigadier-General Carl Marlpo: "Here are the weapons."

Brig. Gen. Marlpo then accepted a single weapon from Cpl. Wafia and another leader of the rebel soldiers, Captain Stanley Benny.

Chief of Operations Colonel Ben Norrie was alongside Mr. Genia and Brig. Gen. Marlpo to receive the arms from the soldiers.

Speaking on behalf of the soldiers, Cpl. Wafia said they had decided to hand in the weapons because they did not want to be seen as demanding an amnesty at gunpoint.

"We don't want to be seen as getting our demands and the amnesty under the barrel of the gun. Democracy must prevail; everything has to be returned and let the government make its decision," he said.

Mr. Genia told the soldiers: "I'd like to thank each and everyone of you, particularly for the way you conducted yourselves in the last 14 days, exercising a lot of restraint and demonstrating a very high level of patience and tolerance."

Mr. Genia also reassured the soldiers involved in the arms siege that the Prime Minister had given his undertaking to pardon all those involved.

"The reason why it has taken us quite a while (to respond) is because we want to make sure that there are no holes left, for the commander, or for that matter for the government to come back and prosecute anyone who has been involved.

"No one will be prosecuted because the Prime Minister has given that undertaking and we will facilitate that," Mr. Genia said.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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