Papua dogs of war to go home

The military advisory company, Sandline International, which has become caught in controversy over a contract in Papua New Guinea, is to withdraw its personnel today or tomorrow.

Some Sandline personnel are still being held captive by renegade elements of the PNG Defence Force, but the company is confident that they, too, will be evacuated.

Sandline maintains it are "caught in the middle of a deep political wrangle between the government and parts of the military".

The crisis started on Monday, when the commander of the armed force, Brigadier General Gerry Singirok, demanded that the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, resign for hiring foreign mercenaries to end a conflict on Bougainville Island. This was followed by supporters of General Singirok rounding up Sandline personnel and confining them to barracks.

General Singirok's actions and those of his supporters have sparked off a political crisis and widespread social unrest. Police fired tear gas at looters around the capital Port Moresby yesterday and rifle shots rang out sporadically around Murray Barracks, which has become the focus for protest against the Prime Minister.

General Singirok claims that he is not staging a coup and that soldiers would not be joining in any street protests, adding "that would be defeating the whole purpose".

Port Moresby was the scene of the most violent trouble but it appears that the unrest yesterday was as much criminal as political. Port Moresby, re- nowned for being a dangerous city, has been terrorised by criminal elements known as "rascal gangs" who have taken advantage of the present crisis to instigate a series of looting raids throughout the city.

Sir Julius said that the $27m (pounds 17m) contract with Sandline would be suspended pending a judicial inquiry.

Sandline claims that General Singirok's actions took them completely by surprise.

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