PNG MUTINEERS GRANTED AMNESTY FOR MUTINY

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Reintegrated in their unit after returning firearms, vehicles

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 31, 2012) – The Government yesterday pardoned mutinous soldiers who last week placed their commander under house arrest in Port Moresby.

Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, a former army captain jailed for sedition in 1997 and later pardoned by the Somare government, delivered the general amnesty to the rebel group at Taurama Barracks outside Port Moresby.

At the ceremony, held at the military parade ground in heavy rain, Mr. Namah who is also the acting Defence Minister received 42 high powered military firearms which were taken forcefully from the Murray Barracks armory last Thursday by the mutineers.

They group also handed over motor vehicles hired for them to carry out the early morning mission targeting their Commander Brigadier General Francis Agwi and installing retired Colonel Yaura Sasa as the new army chief.

Col. Sasa is now behind bars, Brig. Gen. Agwi back in command and yesterday’s ceremony was to pave the way for a peaceful return to soldiering and for the army to focus on the upcoming elections.

The 30 odd soldiers who sided with Col. Sasa are from the First Royal Pacific Islands Battalion (1RPIR) and were told yesterday to return to their units. The new Commanding Officer of the Taurama Barracks told the parade that the 1RPIR soldiers will only take commands from the O’Neill-Namah Government and their chain of command.

The officer said the 1RPIR will allow the political issues in the country be dealt with by the politicians themselves and will not entertain any politician that claim to be a legitimate government that is not elected through Parliament.

He told the parade that the members of the PNGDF will remain loyal to the government of the day and will look forward to support the members of the PNG Police Constabulary in providing security for the 2012 general Elections.

Mr. Namah, in his address to the soldiers amidst heavy rains, stressed there’s only one government and that is the O’Neill-Namah Government elected through Parliament.

He spoke of his experience in 1997 Sandline crises and the hardships he endured in prison after he was charged for mutiny as an example to the soldiers – discouraging them from ever getting involved in any mutiny acts.

"Only your families, your wife and children will feel the pain and suffering and not those who will encourage you to act and any decision as a soldier must be made in your own conscience," Mr. Namah said.

Mr. Namah told the parade yesterday that he will wash his hands clean and will not be bothered by any soldier who failed to surrender – that soldier will face the full force of law.

He said there is only one government, which is the O’Neill-Namah Government, one PNGDF Commander, General Agwi who was appointed by the Somare Government, and Tom Kulunga was the only Police Commissioner in the country.

[PIR editor’s note: O'Neill has called on all members in Somare's "regime" to surrender themselves to police in order to proceed with questioning concerning their roles in last week’s military mutiny. O'Neill accused Somare and a number of his associates in parliament of "proudly boast[ing] that they have attempted to stage a military coup." The current prime minister has also said that Somare and his group should be "recognized as criminals, for they have actively encouraged others to breach the criminal law."]

The members of the 1RPIR surrendered 42 high powered guns straight after the parade and the vehicles they were given to use for the failed mutiny.

Mr. Namah was flanked by Planning Minister Sam Basil, Bougainville Affairs Minister Steven Kama, Petroleum Minister William Duma and Labour Minister Mark Maipakai at the ceremony.

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