MORE DISGRUNTLED SOLDIERS JOIN PNG REVOLT

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By Craig Skehan Foreign Affairs Correspondent in Canberra

CANBERRA, Australia (March 13, 2002 – Sydney Morning Herald)---Rebellious soldiers in Papua New Guinea, who refused yesterday to hand in a seized cache of automatic firearms and grenade launchers, won support from a group of disgruntled personnel at a second military barracks.

This came as a former national MP in Wewak, where the mutiny began at the weekend, warned that the rebels could engage in looting if they ran low on food.

"They have set a deadline of Saturday for a response to their demands and if they don't get what they want there will be more problems," Gabriel Ramoi said. "They are basically worried about retrenchment packages. If the Government works that out, their political demands will fizzle."

More than 60 rebel soldiers at Moem Barracks, who on Saturday raided the armory and burned down two buildings, yesterday threatened unspecified further action if their grievances were not addressed.

As well as seeking improved termination packages, linked to a streamlining of the country's factionalized and demoralized Defense Force, the mutineers initially sought the resignation of the Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta. However, PNG military intelligence officers say ordinary soldiers have little enthusiasm for any politicization of the dispute, blaming civilian anti-government activists from Port Moresby for trying to exploit internal military problems.

The PNG Defense Force chief, Brigadier-General Peter Ilau, was reported yesterday as saying the army would look into "every corner and dark alley" to track down outside instigators.

There were reports from Wewak yesterday that some of the officers who fled the Moem Barracks had gone into hiding. This came as The National newspaper said a group of soldiers from the Igam Barracks, in the town of Lae, had backed the demands of the Wewak rebels.

"We are prepared to go when all entitlements are paid in full, not half-half," said one of the soldiers in Lae facing retrenchment.

A spokesman for the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: "We have made clear to PNG our continuing support for the reform process."

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

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