History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG|
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 97 10:47:24 CDT
From: email@example.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Thousands Rally As Prime Minister 'Steps Aside' In Papua New Guinea
Thousands Rally As Prime Minister "Steps Aside" In Papua New Guinea
By Bob Aiken and Doug Cooper,
in the Militant
Vol. 61, no. 16 (21 April 1997)
SYDNEY, Australia - A jubilant crowd of several thousand
demonstrators blockading the Papua New Guinea (PNG)
parliament in Port Moresby March 26 celebrated the news that
Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan had just "stepped aside."
Facing a 10-day army mutiny and rising mass protests,
Chan announced that he, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Haiveta,
and Minister of Defence Mathias Ijape would do so while an
inquiry is held into a US$36 million contract between the
PNG government and mercenary outfit Sandline International.
Sandline was hired to carry out an offensive on the island
of Bougainville, where the Bougainville Revolutionary Army
has effectively defeated the PNG Defence Force in a nine-
year guerrilla war.
The previous evening demonstrators were outraged when
Parliament defeated, 59-38, a watered-down motion calling on
Chan to step aside during the inquiry, which he announced
March 21. During the five-hour debate, chants of "Resign!"
could easily be heard inside from the 5,000 students,
workers, and shantytown dwellers massed outside. Hundreds of
armed police did not attempt to disperse the crowd.
Within minutes of the vote, protesters began stopping
cars and blocking the legislators from leaving. A number of
armed enlisted men from the Murray Barracks, the main
military base, defied orders and joined the blockade.
Chan reportedly escaped by donning a police uniform and
hiding in a police vehicle. Some MPs scaled a fence
separating Parliament from a golf course. Most remained
trapped over night.
The political crisis was sparked in PNG March 17, when
the commander of the PNG Defence Force, Brig.-Gen. Jerry
Singirok, announced that the army would no longer cooperate
with Sandline. He also demanded that the three ministers
resign and an inquiry be held.
Despite being sacked by Chan, Singirok continued to press
these demands from within the barracks.
The mercenaries, apart from their commander, retired
British army Lt. Col. Timothy Spicer, were expelled from
PNG. Spicer was released into the care of UK High
Commissioner Robert Low, pending charges of illegally
possessing a hand gun.
Students at the University of PNG Waigani campus in Port
Moresby were at the center of the protests. They boycotted
class and held daily forums. "Our collective view," Student
Representative Council president Kevin Kepore, said, "is
that there are more illegal things that this government has
been involved in besides the Sandline International issue."
By March 24, Chan had become increasingly isolated. Five
cabinet ministers resigned, with Governor-General Sir Wiwa
Korowi and church leaders calling on Chan to step aside
pending the outcome of the inquiry.
"The processes of parliamentary democracy appear to be
working," Australian prime minister John Howard commented,
as he welcomed Chan's decision to stand down. The PNG prime
minister had earlier requested that Canberra send troops to
Port Moresby to help restore order. Canberra, for its part,
refused to rule out sending troops to "protect" the 12,000
Australian citizens in PNG.
The Australian government's strenuous objection to the
use of mercenaries flowed from the need to reinforce its
standing as the main military force in the region and its
assessment that the mercenaries would destabilize the
political situation in PNG, its most important former
colony. Its intervention in PNG affairs, including placing
its troops on alert, sparked virtually no protests in
Major Walter Enuma, a key Singirok supporter, said March
23, "We would like to see this thing off the streets and
back into the political arena."
Singirok declared March 24, the eve of his deadline to
Chan, that "the matter is now with the Parliament."
Addressing a group of soldiers, the "sacked" general called
for discipline, declaring, "We are intact!"The PNG cabinet
appointed the mining and petroleum minister, John Giheno, as
caretaker prime minister March 27. Some leaders of the anti-
Chan protests see this as merely a cabinet shuffle, with
Chan remaining in charge behind the scenes. Chan declared
that he will return to office once he is cleared by the
Bob Aiken is a member of the Australian Manufacturing
Workers' Union and Doug Cooper is a member of the AWU-FIME
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