How I came close to death in the hands of Papuan rebels: British colonel tells his story

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The Independent Online
Retired British colonel Tim Spicer described yesterday how he was beaten up and a gun held to his head after being captured while leading a team of mercenaries in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The chief executive of Sandline International - the mercenary organisation at the centre of the crisis in Papua New Guinea - Col Spicer said he narrowly missed death a number of times after being captured by local troops.

After arriving in Britain on Wednesday night, Col Spicer made his first public appearance yesterday at a press conference in London's Park Lane Hilton. He said his company had been contracted by the PNG government to supply "equipment and assistance for the resolution of the internal conflict on Bougainville".

The involvement of the mercenaries in PNG caused dismay amongst the country's neighbours, particularly Australia, and outraged many in the PNG Defence Force. The situation was brought to a head when army chief Brigadier General Singirok denounced the deal and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan.

As a result, Sandline employees were detained by elements of the PNG defence force loyal to Gen Singirok and subsequently all, except Spicer, were forced to evacuate the country. Spicer was held hostage for a further six days before he was handed over to the police whereupon he was charged with a firearms offence.

This charge was later dropped by the court and appears to have been a pretext to ensure that Spicer remained in the country in order to give evidence at a judicial enquiry into the contract with Sandline.

Spicer stated that during his time in captivity: "I was subjected to illegal arrest and was deprived of my basic human rights such as the ability to contact my embassy and my family. I was physically assaulted, suffered intimidation and was subject to death threats. I had an automatic revolver put to my head on three occasions and threatened with my life".

Col Spicer reiterated Sandline's claim that the contract was above board and legal and said no bribes had been paid to secure the contract.He went on to state that he was confused by Gen Singirok's motives as "he made it clear that he was entirely supportive and enthusiastic about Sandline's role in resolving the crisis."

Col Spicer stated that the services his company provided were "as good as the training supplied by any first world army. The people we hire are extremely professional with high standards of military conduct and discipline."

Sandline's areas of expertise included training for air crews, special forces training and training for electronic warfare operators. Spicer claimed his "personnel were under command of the PNG Defence Force ... there was never any question of their being a 'third force'."

The Sandline contract with the PNG government was worth $36m (pounds 22.1m) of which 80 per cent was equipment, Spicer said. This included 2 Soviet made attack helicopters, fixed wing aircraft , ammunition, small arms and electronic warfare equipment. A large proportion of this equipment is presently being held in Australia pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Spicer stated that Sandline had been paid $18m (pounds 11m) so far and was awaiting the outcome of the inquiry before negotiating for the funds still outstanding.

He said he would be "taking a break before he made any other plans".