Port Moresby - Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, yesterday offered an olive branch to rebel army officers, saying that his government would consider dropping a plan to use mercenaries against Bougainville island.
However, a helicopter pilot from the mercenaries said in Singapore that Papua New Guinea had already cancelled its contract with British-based Sandline International for the hire of the group. "The contract's terminated. It's as simple as that." the pilot said, but his comments could not immediately be confirmed.
Sir Julius's statement came after a fresh challenge to his authority as army officers rallied against the use of the mercenaries to quell a nine-year island uprising on resource-rich Bougainville and a street protest erupted in violence.
Sir Julius said six of the forty mercenaries left Papua New Guinea yesterday. The other 34 remained confined to barracks in the north of the country. He said he was in complete control of the South Pacific nation, which was thrown into chaos when he sacked the country's army chief who had demanded his resignation over plans to use the mercenaries on Bougainville. Protesters yesterday delivered a petition which called for the mercenaries to be sent home and for Sir Julius's resignation.
In Port Moresby, former army chief Jerry Singirok said last Tuesday that he accepted his dismissal but he remained in the main barracks, where 1,500 protesters arrived to support him in his campaign against Sir Julius.
Protesters had earlier tried to entice soldiers to join them in a march on parliament house but the soldiers cheered them while remaining in barracks. Violence followed within hours when demonstrators started looting nearby shops. Police fired tear gas into the crowd and live ammunition over their heads.