Army chief tells PNG leader to quit over mercenaries

Brigadier denies power bid, but condemns `corruption'

Papua New Guinea faced a constitutional crisis last night after the head of the country's armed forces called on Sir Julius Chan, the Prime Minister, to resign over his hiring of mercenaries from a British- based company to stamp out rebels on the tropical island of Bougainville. Australian television reported that Brigadier General Jerry Singirok, commander of the Papua defence force was himself then sacked, though this could not immediately be confirmed.

Declaring that his unprecedented action was not a military coup, Brigadier Gen Singirok accused Sir Julius's government of "corrupt practices" in hiring the mercenaries from Sandline International.

"As armed forces commander, I believe the strategy of the government is wrong, and I have basically told the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence that what they have done is incorrect. We don't have a coup. I believe in a very strong democratic country, that the country should be run for the people by the people. It's a matter of principle and ethics," he said.

The army was holding more than 40 Sandline mercenaries, most from South Africa, in custody last night. Brigadier Gen Singirok said he believed their appointment had been a "quick fix solution", and that they would be "repatriated" from Papua New Guinea as soon as possible. "I, as commander, am not going to play the game," he said.

After a cabinet meeting lasting several hours, Sir Julius announced he would not resign, described the brigadier's command as a constitutional breach and said that, while Brigadier Gen Singirok may disagree with the the government's actions, he had to obey orders.

The crisis follows the revelation last month that Sir Julius's government, which is facing a general election later this year, had hired what he described as "foreign military advisers" to guide the army's operations on Bougainville, where rebels have been waging a secessionist war for eight years.

The mercenaries, as they have been more widely described, come from Sandline International, a company which is registered in the Bahamas and with offices in London and Washington.

The arrival of mercenaries in Papua, the first such involvement of an outside private army in the South Pacific, has caused alarm in the region, particularly in Australia, which ruled the country until independence in 1975. John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, held talks with Sir Julius lasting four hours in Sydney a week ago, to persuade him to end his government's involvement with Sandline. Australia provides a substantial portion of Papua New Guinea's budget in direct aid.

Mr Howard called on the Papua New Guinea government yesterday to resolve the stand-off with its armed forces peacefully and constitutionally. "This is the sort of destabilisation that we feared," he said.

While Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, remained calm last night, it was unclear how far support for Brigadier Gen Singirok's ultimatum to Sir Julius extended among the police and the armed forces.

The brigadier claimed that he had the backing of Bob Nenta, the Papua New Guinea police commissioner, but Mr Nenta later dissociated himself from the move.

Brigadier Gen Singirok was appointed army commander about 15 months ago, at a critical time in Port Moresby's lengthy, unsuccessful campaign to bring the Bougainville rebels to heel.

Sir Julius's deal with the mercenaries angered Brigadier Gen Singirok, who interpreted the move as an attack on his integrity as army commander and a vote of no confidence in his forces.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future