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Unitech bursar appears before court on fraud charge

Education News PNG

ANOTHER SUSPENDED STAFF member at the PNG University of Technology (Unitech) has appeared before the Lae committal court on allegation of misappropriation and conspiracy to defraud the state.

Suspended Unitech bursar Jimmy Imbok, who is a signatory to the university account, was arrested last Thursday and appeared before Magistrate Posain Polo yesterday.

It is alleged that Imbok and others defrauded the university and state of over K600,000 between 17 January 2012 and 4 January 2013.

Magistrate Polo will consider the evidence provided by the police to determine if there are sufficient grounds for referral to the National Court.

Meanwhile, Polo reduced Imbok’s bail which was set at K5,000 to K500. He said the defendant was a citizen and would not escape from the country.

Imbok is another in a line of former Unitech staff and academics who have been implicated with former head of the university’s engineering department, Professor Narayan Gehlot.

Meanwhile police are investigating the illegal sale of a vehicle belonging to the engineering department.

Read the Albert Schram story here. Incredibly, the Unitech vice-chancellor was deported by PNG authorities while trying to clean up this mess. There's a massive injustice being perpetrated - KJ

We’ll set up an ICAC, Peter O’Neill tells Oz media


Today's photo of Peter O'Neill with Julie GillardPRIME MINISTER PETER O'NEILL addressed the National Press Club in Canberra today and committed himself to establishing a permanent independent commission against corruption in Papua New Guinea.

Here at PNG Attitude - with the national media focussed firmly on domestic politics - we’re grateful to the ABC’s Liam Fox for posting some of the highlights of Mr O’Neill’s speech on Twitter.

Fox reported that the prime minister began his address by criticising Australian journalists for describing PNG as a failed state.

"This is just simply wrong," he said, describing the claims as "harmful" and "hurtful".

It is indeed a slur that is especially objectionable to Papua New Guineans since it combines a noxious blend of condescension, fiction and plain ignorance.

Addressing the issue of foreign aid, Mr O'Neill said PNG would like to see a greater alignment between AusAID support and his government's own development priorities.

He also said that he would like to see links between young Papua New Guineans and Australians strengthened as well as more emphasis being placed on the trade and economic relationship, particularly Australian investment in PNG construction and agriculture.

During his speech, Mr O'Neill also continued his campaign against BHP Billiton's continuing presence in board roles in the PNG Sustainable Development Program. "There is no reason they should be involved,” Liam Fox quoted him as saying.

AAP diplomatic correspondent Adam Gartrell has just reported that Peter O’Neill asked Australia to rethink its aid spending by putting greater emphasis on infrastructure like roads and ports.

PNG is in "dire need" of better economic infrastructure like roads, ports and airports, he said. "I know there will be some in the aid program who will be horrified by this suggestion.

"But if we are going to make sure your aid genuinely supports our economic and social development and helps us guarantee our security and stability we simply must make sure it is more targeted to align with our priorities."

Australia's aid program in PNG currently focuses more on health, education and governance.

Mr O'Neill said the PNG-Australia relationship is in "good shape" but warned against complacency.

While saying that the Chinese aid footprint in PNG was very small, he would welcome more.

Late this afternoon, Mr O'Neill met with Australian prime minister Julia Gillard for discussions.

With Australian help, PNG has lost billions to corruption


Sam KoimAS MUCH AS HALF OF Papua New Guinea's A$3.5 billion development budget over three years has been lost to graft or dodgy overseas investments, the head of the Pacific nation's government anti-corruption task force says.

Task Force Sweep chairman Sam Koim (pictured) says Australian financial institutions have been complicit by turning a blind eye to dirty monies being redirected to Australian connections.

A Task Force Sweep analysis of PNG's 7.6 billion kina development budget from 2009 through 2011 shows almost half was lost to corrupt practices by public officials and government departments.

"We have uncovered a lot of instances where there was no recourse to budget and people were spending money left, right and centre, squandering funds and using them for private purposes," Mr Koim told AAP today.

"Given the trend of corruption and seeing that there is nothing on the ground level to show for the expenditure of public funds, we have reason to believe that at least half of the budget we were investigating was wasted, mismanaged or stolen.

"Government systems and control mechanisms have, over time, been corroded. It is safe to say (the money) has been stolen."

Despite being often described as "an island of gold on a sea of oil" because of its abundant natural resources, the nation of seven million has heavily degraded infrastructure, poor health services and a severe lack of access to education.

Mr Koim, who has previously described Australia as PNG's Cayman Islands because of to the amount of money invested there, denied local media reports claiming most of the stolen funds had been invested in Australia alone.

However, he said Australian financial institutions had turned a blind eye to transactions and investments from high-profile PNG public servants and politicians on Australian shores.

Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek dies after long illness

Chronox ManekTHE DEATH OF CHIEF OMBUDSMAN Chronox Manek after a long illness has been referred to as a great loss for Papua New Guinea.

Mr Manek was appointed in 2008 and survived being shot in an assassination attempt in 2009.

Despite his illness, he continued to serve in the job until ill health forced him to step aside last month.

Mr Manek conducted several investigations into high profile leaders including former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.

Radio New Zealand International reports the chairman of Transparency International PNG, Lawrence Stephens, as saying Mr Manek was strongly committed to an important job which was made difficult because of a lack of resources.

“It was simply the nature of the fellow,” Mr Stephens said. “He is such a well-liked person and it is quite a loss to everybody.

“A quiet person, relatively humble but very well known by many people and well liked by many. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Mr Manek, who was from Wambangan village in the Boana District of the Morobe Province held a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Papua New Guinea and a Master of Law degree from the University of Melbourne.

He was appointed Public Solicitor in 1999 and in 2001 Public Prosecutor, also serving as co-Chairman of the International Association of Prosecutors World Conference; Director of the Asia Crime Prevention Foundation; Director of the International Ombudsman Institute; Vice-Chairman of the Pacific Ombudsman Alliance and Executive Committee Member of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities.

Mr Manek gained a reputation for campaigning against corruption by public figures and was the target of many attacks, mostly verbal but also the attempted shooting in December 2009 as he was returning home, narrowly escaping death.

Prominent PNG businessman accused of gun-running


AN AUSTRALIAN EXPATRIATE based in Papua New Guinea will face a Melbourne court for alleged involvement in a gun smuggling racket in the Pacific.

Prominent PNG businessman Ian Chow was arrested in Sydney by Australian Federal Police early last month.

An AFP spokeswoman confirmed they arrested a 49-year-old male Australian citizen in Chatswood.

"The man was charged with one count of aid, abet, counsel or procure the export of prohibited goods," she said.

PNG has a strict embargo on weapons and ammunition importation due to high levels of violent gun crime and Mr Chow, a licensed sports shooter, is alleged to be involved in the illegal supply of ammunition via Lae Biscuit Company containers sent from Australia.

Mr Chow is the chief executive officer for Lae Biscuit Company and the regional director for the International Practical Shooting Confederation.

He appeared before Parramatta Local Court on 5 August before being extradited to face Melbourne Magistrate's Court on 20 August. His next Melbourne court appearance is on 12 November.

Manus processing centre agreed by O’Neill, Gillard


AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard has left the APEC summit in Vladivostok prematurely because of her father's death, but not before completing some important diplomatic business.

Ms Gillard and Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O’Neill this morning signed the formal agreement that will allow Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus for processing.

Vessel unseaworthy & owner had ‘no respect for people’

Radio New Zealand International

Rabaul QueenA COMMISSION OF INQUIRY into the sinking of the ferry Rabaul Queen has found it was not seaworthy, unsafe and should never have departed on its final voyage.

The commission's report, obtained by Radio New Zealand International, says between 142 and 161 people died when the Rabaul Queen sank between the island of New Britain and the mainland city of Lae on 2 February.

It cannot give an exact number of passengers, because the vessel did not have a clear manifest.

The report says weather and sea conditions at the time of the capsize were gale force and the ship should not have been where it was in the conditions.

The commission found the ship's owner, Captain Peter Sharp, demonstrated that he had little or no respect for people, including those in authority.

It says this "gross disrespect" was reflected in the "appalling and inhumane conditions" in which he was prepared to let Rabaul Queen passengers travel and may explain in part why he was prepared to compromise the safety of passengers on board his ships.

The report also found a number of failures by the Maritime Safety Authority, including that it allowed itself to be intimidated by Mr Sharp.

Belden Namah says Australia ‘interfered’ in election


PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S deputy prime minister Belden Namah has accused Australian officials of interfering in the national elections.

He also criticised prime minister Peter O'Neill for allowing the elections to go ahead despite the electoral roll not being ready.

Mr Namah had previously demanded the elections be deferred for six months because of his concerns about the electoral rolls.

He received the support of cabinet and the parliament, but Mr O'Neill sided with electoral commissioner Andrew Trawen and the elections went ahead a week ago.

Mr Namah says the election is a disaster and Mr O'Neill should be ashamed of having listened to the electoral commissioner and his Australian advisers.

The head of Australia's aid agency AusAID in PNG, Stuart Shafer, says there are 22 Australian advisers helping with the election.

"An update of the roll is PNG led and we have been very active in just providing the tools for Papua New Guineans to provide that update," he said.

Andrew Trawen admits there are big problems with the electoral roll.

"We have found evidence of deliberate actions by some to remove names, add names and modify the status of persons on the roll," he said.

"Once we have completed our enquiries I will refer these matters to the police."

Reports of major election failures in Hela Province


EYEWITNESSES REPORT THAT history has repeated itself in the southern highlands elections in the new Hela Province, getting Papua New Guinea’s national election off to a very bad start.

Ballot boxes and voting papers have been hijacked, destroyed or signed by candidates and supporters, who have been filling them out at will.

Security personnel are too thin on the ground, fearful for their own safety and obviously useless.

The new province will now be under the control of crooks and thugs, not properly elected leaders.

This is a disaster for the people of Hela. They must take responsibility for what happened but it is a very sad day for Hela.

The Hela poll must now be declared a failed election and the province prepared for proper by-elections later in the year.

How many other highlands provinces will also be like this? This is the failed 2002 national elections all over again?

People did not vote in Hela and certain candidates and the PNG Electoral Commission must be help responsible for the poor planning and conduct of the election operations.

PNG mobilises for a tech-savvy election


Illustration - Simon LetchON THE KOKODA TRACK, about the point where General Tomitaro Horii's invasion force was halted in September 1942 in sight of the Coral Sea, a mobile phone will now pick up the signal from the Port Moresby network.

As Papua New Guinea starts voting today in its national elections, after much worry about whether they would be held within the constitutional timeframe or even run in a meaningful way, many political players and analysts are watching to see how the mobile phone is changing the game.

The last elections took place in 2007, the same year the government deregulated telecommunications and removed the monopoly of the state telecom agency. Two mobile phone companies, Digicel and BeMobile, jumped into the market, and their networks have since expanded to cover 75 per cent of the nearly 7 million population.

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One study a year ago put mobile phone penetration at 48 per cent of the population. Sarah Logan, at the Australian National University, cites estimates that 30 per cent have a mobile phone. Either way, it dwarfs the number with a fixed line connection.

Last year, the mobile networks added a broadband capability, so wireless technology is doing the same leapfrog for internet connectivity, which had linked up only 2 per cent of the population previously. As well as getting general net access, increasing numbers are using social media.

Facebook has 80,000 members in Papua New Guinea, double the total of a year ago. Most are under 40. The Twitter hashtags #PNG and #OccupyWaigani regularly break news much faster than any other source in PNG, Logan notes in the ANU Pacific Institute's Outrigger blog.

"The advent of mobile phones means PNG now arguably has a national communication network for the very first time, outstripping the relatively limited reach of PNG's relatively free press and TV broadcasters and overtaking its ineffective and expensive fixed line network," Logan says.

"Political blogs and Facebook itself also expand the media landscape considerably. This adds an important element of new possibilities of political communication to the already evident economic benefits of the introduction of new technology."

The political effects have already been felt in the capital, Port Moresby. During the political turmoil of the past 10 months, since the ousting of Sir Michael Somare from government, activists have been able to assemble large crowds to protest when public opinion turned against certain manoeuvres.

Another analyst, Danielle Cave, writing in the Lowy Institute's Interpreter blog, says: "The accessibility of mobile internet allows Papua New Guinea's Facebook users to share texts, articles, photos and video immediately while they are on the move - key ingredients for the co-ordination of a large public event."

Continue reading "PNG mobilises for a tech-savvy election" »

On video assignment for the PNG elections


SBS correspondent Kathy NovakSBS CORRESPONDENT KATHY NOVAK is reporting from Papua New Guinea on the national elections, which are set to end months of political stalemate during which two men claimed to be prime minister.

Friday 22 June – Peter O'Neill campaigns in PNG central highlands

Incumbent prime minister Peter O'Neill used the last day before the elections to campaign in Tari in the central highlands.


Wednesday 20 June - Security tightens ahead of PNG elections

Officers from the Australian Defence Force arrived to the Papua New Guinea Highlands -- a region notorious for election-related violence -- to help beef up security. 


Tuesday 19 June – Poverty and disease key to PNG elections

For many voters, access to housing, transport and health care remain major challenges. And as PNG struggles with an HIV/AIDS epidemic, there are also concerns the election itself will spread more disease.


Indon fugitive Joko Tjandra finds new home in PNG


AN INDONESIAN TYCOON who fled Jakarta a day before he was sentenced to jail for fraud by the Supreme Court, and who is on the Interpol wanted list, has been granted citizenship of Papua New Guinea at a secret ceremony.

The constitution and associated regulations of PNG require new citizens to be resident in the country for eight years. They also include a number of other stringent conditions, including strictly policed financial probity.

Joko Tjandra, 61, was first charged with corruption in 1999, over $57 million which he allegedly received illegally via Pande Lubis, who was the deputy chairman of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency set up following the Asian financial crisis.

Pande was convicted in 2004 and jailed for four years, over his misuse of Bank Bali funds. Joko was acquitted.

But under a new chief justice, the Supreme Court granted the prosecutor's request for a review of the case. As a result, in June 2009 former central bank governor Syahril Sabirin was jailed for two years.

Two days later, and a day before Joko was to return to court for its verdict and possible sentencing, he fled. The court this time convicted and sentenced him, also to two years' jail, in absentia.

He was ordered in addition to repay the $57m he received over the sale of Bank Bali debt collection rights.

He flew in a private jet to PNG, where associated family members own a large conglomerate, Papindo Trading, which is an especially large retailer, owning Super Value Stores, and which has recently bid to lease 100,000ha in Central Province for a rice-growing project.

When Joko fled, Indonesian Attorney-General's Office spokesman Jasman Pandjaitan said: "We've asked Interpol to help us to bring Joko back to serve his sentence."

It is believed that he has split his time since then, chiefly between Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai and PNG, travelling by private jet.

Late last year, he is understood to have been flown in a Falcon jet between Malaysia and PNG, necessitating travelling over Indonesian air space - and provoking a diplomatic incident.

The Falcon was originally owned by the PNG government when Michael Somare was prime minister, and was sold and leased back to the government after Sir Michael lost office last August.

A week ago, 11 people, from six countries including Australia, were granted PNG citizenship at a ceremony in the state function room of Parliament House.

Joko, the 12th person to be awarded the honour last week, was not present. But it is understood he received his citizenship documentation in private, before the ceremony.

The citizenship was awarded only a few days from the start of voting, on Saturday, in a tumultuous national election, when PNG is at its most distracted.

The Post-Courier newspaper asked in an editorial: "Who endorsed Joko's application for citizenship? Is it true that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill tried to stop the presentation of the certificates?

"We have not only given refuge to an international fugitive but given him citizenship. What are our international obligations? PNG's image is at stake."

Violence shatters Kokoda Track village’s dreams


EARLY ON MONDAY MORNING in Port Moresby the terrible price of the mindless violence that plagues PNG’s capital was laid bare.

Near Laloki on the city’s outskirts, a gang of thugs in a mini-van forced a public bus off the road and bashed and stabbed its passengers with bush knives and machetes, killing one and leaving another in a critical condition.

The murdered young man, Rex John from Naduri village about halfway along the Kokoda Track, was travelling to Moresby from his teaching college at Veifa’a about four hours away to pick up the academic gown he hoped to wear to his graduation as a Community Health Worker next Saturday.

Both Rex and Jackson were studying on scholarships from the Australian-based not-for-profit organization, the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF). After graduation, Rex was to be posted back to his home village where he would serve as Naduri’s resident Community Health Worker, giving his community access to basic health care for the first time.

“The Kokoda Track Foundation is deeply saddened and distressed by Rex’s death,” KTF Chairman, Patrick Lindsay said today. “Rex and Jackson were outstanding students – unsung local heroes - who had spent years studying to acquire desperately-needed medical skills which they hoped to bring back to their remote villages,” Lindsay said.

“It’s a tragedy that some cowardly thugs can snatch Rex’s life away and deprive his family and community of a wonderful young man and the health care he hoped to give them.”

Rex was travelling on the bus with his friend and fellow Community Health Worker student, Jackson Fred from Efogi village on the Track, who was also to graduate this weekend. Jackson was also stabbed in the attack but is recovering in hospital.

Local police were called to the scene after the attack and helped to transport Rex and Jackson to Port Moresby General Hospital. Sadly, Rex’s injuries were too severe and he did not survive the night. Jackson is currently receiving medical treatment for his injuries.

Continue reading "Violence shatters Kokoda Track village’s dreams" »

Captain denies arrogance caused ferry disaster


Rabaul QueenA FERRY WHICH SANK in wild weather off the Papua New Guinea coast on 2 February, likely claiming more than 200 lives, would not have been lost if not for the ''gross carelessness and negligence'' of Captain Peter Sharp, its Australian-born owner and manager, according to the allegations of counsel assisting the inquiry into the disaster.

Captain Sharp disagreed, the fourth-generation mariner insisting that the tragedy was the consequence of an ''act of God'' in the form of three ''rogue waves'' which hit and capsized the overcrowded Rabaul Queen en route from Kimbe, on the island of New Britain, to the mainland port of Lae.

Over 2½ days last week, Captain Sharp faced intense questioning over his operation of the ferry fleet, safety and ticketing protocols, and his personality and management style, which was characterised as bullying and arrogant, with ''no regard for the law''.

Captain Sharp was accused of creating ''inhumane'' conditions on board his ferries by routinely overloading them through the peak summer traffic periods; of sailing vessels without qualified crew, safety and maintenance routines, and, on occasion, valid survey certificates; of providing inaccurate information to insurers; of bullying and intimidating authorities; and of allowing a vessel not fit for wild seas to sail in gale-force conditions.

Captain Sharp conceded that the Rabaul Queen should never have sailed in the conditions in which she went down.

He also admitted that in 41 years operating in PNG, he had never sought information from the PNG Weather Bureau, preferring to piece together his own weather reports from Australian and American meteorology sites and distributing these to his crews.

Brisbane barrister Mal Varitimos, assisting the inquiry, argued ''your arrogance has in part led to this disaster''.

''No, it's not arrogance. It's experience,'' Captain Sharp replied.

Much of the questioning related to uncertainties around the number of people on board the vessel. Although the ship was only certified to carry 295 passengers, Captain Sharp said that there were 360 passengers, plus 14 crew, on board the vessel when she sank.

He rejected submissions by Mr Varitimos that he had given false evidence over the passenger numbers, and that he knew that there were more people aboard.

Drawing on ticket sales records and multiple inconsistencies in the official manifest - at least one survivor scooped up by rescuers was not even listed on the manifest - Mr Varitimos argued that there could have been 429 people on board, maybe 440 including infants under three years.

Some 230 passengers were later rescued, and four bodies were recovered. Survivors have told the inquiry that many people - especially women with small children - were trapped when the ship went down.

Several survivors have given evidence to the committee claiming that more than 500 people were crammed aboard the doomed vessel - many without enough room to sit or lie down over the 21-hour trip.

Inquiry hearings finished yesterday and a report to the government is due by 30 June.

Ferry boss tells inquiry 'I ignored weather warnings'


PETER SHARP, THE OWNER of the Rabaul Queen, which sank in Papua New Guinea on 2 February claiming more than 200 lives, has told an inquiry he ignored weather warnings.

But Australian-born Captain Sharp, quizzed by Brisbane barrister Mal Varitimos, told the inquiry in Port Moresby on Tuesday that the ship sank because of an "act of God".

He conceded that when he bought the ship 13 years ago it was being used for smooth waters, in Japan's inland sea.

Captain Sharp said "someone in the Transport Department" had questioned the suitability of the vessel for PNG waters. The ship's survey certificate issued in 2003 licensed it "to operate in conditions below force-seven seas".

Captain Sharp agreed with Mr Varitimos that "any competent and responsible operator of a passenger vessel would not send it to sea without accurate, reliable and timely weather forecasts . . . if they're available". If they were not, he said, the master could still send a ship to sea.

He told the inquiry, chaired by Australian judge Warwick Andrew, that he would not have sailed the Rabaul Queen in gale-force conditions, but "probably would have allowed it to sail" in force-seven winds of 28-33 knots.

Captain Sharp usually obtained weather information on the internet from the Queensland Bureau of Meteorology - which on January 31 warned of three cyclones in the western Pacific. He said he looked at the website of the Hawaii-based America Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

But he said he never sought information from the PNG Weather Bureau, or from PNG Coastal Radio, which was often, he said, "at least 24 to 48 hours behind what's actually happening".

"I know they're totally unreliable," he said. "I knew better the conditions - the situation - than they did."

When Rabaul Queen departed on its final fatal voyage from Kimbe to Lae - which usually takes 21 hours - the PNG Weather Bureau was warning of wind force eight or nine.

Captain Sharp said that even if he had been advised of that gale wind warning he would "not necessarily" have prevented the ship from sailing. He would have contacted the captain and discussed the situation.

He said he had bought infant life jackets, and stowed them in the cabin for mothers and children.

But he did not know why Rabaul Queen crew were unaware they were available. Earlier witnesses reported that life jackets had been held in padlocked cupboards.

Stunned parliament finds that Namah may be PM

Sources: Liam Fox/ABC and Tavurvur [Twitter]

THIS MORNING’S SITTING OF THE PNG parliament took a peculiar twist when both prime minister Peter O’Neill and contender Sir Michael Somare were declared not to be duly elected leaders of Papua New Guinea.

Parliament accepted yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling and reinstated Somare as prime minister before disqualifying him on the grounds that he had missed three sittings of parliament since January.

With Speaker Jeffrey Nape acting as Governor-General, Deputy Speaker Francis Marus then declared the prime minister’s office vacant and announced that a new PM will be elected tomorrow, forcing O’Neill aside.

This means that deputy prime minister Belden Namah may become acting prime minister, at least for the next 24 hours.

G-G won't sign off on emergency – heads overseas


PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S GOVERNOR-GENERAL has washed his hands of both sides of the nation's political dispute, with his office saying he will not sign any documents until a government is formed after the election.

A senior member of the office of Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio says the head of state has refused to sign any documents presented by parliamentary elected prime minister Peter O'Neill or from his court-appointed rival for the top job, Sir Michael Somare.

The spokesman says the governor-general has also refused to sign an instrument recalling parliament for a special sitting last week in which the government voted for a state of emergency in three provinces including the capital, Port Moresby.

"No documents have been received by the governor-general and that includes the state of emergency (declared by parliament on Friday)," the spokesman, who declined to be named, told AAP today.

He said Sir Michael Ogio had refused to sign the document approving Friday's special sitting of parliament at which MPs voted for a state of emergency.

"He received that document but he did not sign it," the spokesman said, answering "negative" when asked the question two more times.

"Go to the election. That was advised to everybody from the beginning, go to the election."

The spokesman said the governor-general was seeking legal advice.

Constitutional lawyer Ray Williams told AAP that parliament could not be convened without the consent of the governor-general.

"The instrument must be signed by the governor-general, otherwise it is not an instrument at all," Mr Williams said.

"In terms of the sitting itself, if it is not approved by the governor-general, in effect it would not be constitutional to do that."

AAP has learned that Sir Michael Ogio will depart PNG tomorrow for Britain to participate in the Queen's Birthday celebrations.

According to protocol, Speaker Jeffrey Nape will become acting governor-general until Sir Michael returns on 12 June.

UPNG campus in crisis as admin buildings looted


A MONTH-LONG POWER BLACK-OUT at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Waigani Campus has incited angry residential students to loot the Administration and other buildings.

UPNG students on popular social media sites Facebook and Twitter have reported that tensions are high at Waigani and are demanding the Administration act immediately to fix the situation.

The black-outs started a month ago when an underground electricity service cable became faulty and could not provide electricity to the majority of dormitories in the main campus.

Next week will see examinations go into full gear on campus and students are frustrated at the frequent disruptions to their studies.

Last night many students felt that it was not fair to conduct exams when they were not afforded the proper facilities to study.

At about 7.30pm the temporary generator servicing the dormitories Tuloan, Luavi, Lasitewa, Poroman, Veari and Toa 2 and 3 failed and frustrated students mobilised in the darkness and spilled out on the road and attacked the Gunther Administration Building, breaking glass and blocking off the entrance road.

A meeting was held between security personnel, Police and student leaders during which, among other things, it was agreed that the students return to their rooms and properly address the situation this morning. \

A University security spokesperson was reported to have said that, while the looting of school property was not good, the black-out was causing problems for security operations as well.

A Police spokesperson said that Police were there upon calls from concerned parents but would only enter the campus grounds upon request of university security.

Student leaders condemned the Administration for stalling in rectifying the black-out situation for over a month and called for a swift response of face further action. The Administration could not be reached for comment.

Life goes on at the bottom as PNG reels from the top


ENLISTING THE MIGHTY MODERN EPISTLE of the tweet, and the old magic of a powerful image, the ABC's Port Moresby correspondent nailed the bleak, stranger-than-fiction reality his city woke to yesterday morning.

There in a stream - a rubbish-clogged drain, really - running just below the blockaded gates of the Papua New Guinea Parliament, unbothered and unnoticed by rebel police protesting against the latest twist in the Byzantine power play capturing the capital, a young woman scrubbed her laundry.

On her head she proudly wore the national colours. ''While the political storm rages, the lives of grassroots PNGeans continue unaffected,'' observed Liam Fox.

Whether that holds true this morning, following potentially explosive moves within the Parliament late yesterday to declare a state of emergency in the capital - the first in well over a decade, and the first ever provoked by political events - and in restive parts of the highlands, remains to be seen.

For several hours early in the day, the group of apparently unarmed police at the blockade refused to let anyone into Parliament.

No MPs would be allowed in until after the national elections, scheduled to begin late next month, they told reporters.

The action of the police in blocking the gates - trying to thwart any political moves that might derail the election - reflected the exasperation and yearning of people across PNG who are desperate to use their votes to bring about an end to seven months of crippling political impasse.

Such sentiments are shared by street vendors, rural farmers and the elite ''twitterati'' who have harnessed social media to campaign, all the while urging fellow citizens to keep a lid on their frustrations lest they provide authorities with an excuse to delay the poll.

Although Parliament had been officially dissolved almost two weeks back, for three days Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has been trying to rustle up a quorum to deal with the latest crisis - a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on Monday reaffirming its judgment of last December that his claim on power is illegitimate.

Despite enjoying the support of the bureaucracy, the majority of the police, military chiefs and a population largely disenchanted with the failures of the Somare era, the court has now twice determined the process by which Sir Michael was removed was unconstitutional.

O'Neill and his deputy, Belden Namah, accused the court of bias. Namah's tirades against the judges had already provoked them to whack him with contempt charges.

On Thursday, he displayed his contempt by charging into the Supreme Court with a posse of police and soldiers and demanding the arrest of Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia for sedition. Sir Salamo secured himself in his chambers, telling reporters he feared for his safety and for PNG's democracy. The Chief Justice yesterday found himself before a court, and bailed until July 1.

By yesterday afternoon, the police blockade had been overcome by the momentum of the conflict between the nation's executive and the judiciary. The MPs made their way into the chamber and more than 40 of them voted to nullify the Supreme Court order and to declare the state of emergency across the capital and in the volatile Southern Highlands provinces, where the $16 billion Exxon-led gas project approaches completion.

Some experts say that under the constitution, a state of emergency does allow the deferral of an election, and this prospect ignited distress on PNG's social media political sites. Anxieties were also high that the crisis might provoke another attempted military intervention. It's understood military leaders are deeply divided over the events.

This was despite the PM's declaration the election would go ahead on schedule, and his assurance that people's movements would not be restricted.

Police would ''do their best'' to respect the rights of citizens, he said. But experts recall that previous emergency provisions have enlisted heavy-handed policing, harassment and abuses of human rights.

The chief justice's sacrifice is a sad day for PNG



2000 (AEST) - Chief Justice Salamo has been charged under section 54 of the Criminal Code and will face Committal Court tomorrow [Tavurvur]


1740 [AEST] - Tavurvur ‏@Tavurvur - It also appears that CJ Injia Salamo has agreed to be charged with "sedition" if peace is maintained in the Supreme Court

Tavurvur ‏@Tavurvur - It is clear to me that no appropriate warrant was issued by any relevant bench. CJ Salamo has sacrificed himself. It's a sad day for PNG

Liam Fox ‏@liamfoxpng - Chief Justice Sir Salamo says his attempted arrest sets a dangerous precedent. Says he fears for his safety & democracy in PNG


1630 (AEST) - CJ Salamo, Registrar for the National/Supreme Court Ian Augerea, J Kirriwom and J Gavara-Nanu have surrendered [Tavurvur tweet]

Earlier - There were scene of chaos in Port Moresby this afternoon after deputy prime minister Belden Namah, together with police and soldiers, attempted and then succeeded in arresting Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and other judicial officers.

Sir Salamo locked himself in his chambers for some hours before surrendering to polkice and, it seems, soldiers.

Earlier this week the Court declared Sir Michael Somare to be the constitutionally-determined leader of Papua New Guinea.

Since then there has been a number of unsuccessful attempts to reconvene Parliament, presumably with the intent of seeking to override this ruling.

Mr Namah says the Chief Justice will be charged with treason and sedition.

Upon arriving at the Supreme Court, Namah is said to have shouted "This country is bigger than Injia!".

It is not known whether there was a warrant for the Chief Justice's arrest and, if so, wehere this may have come from.

Blogger Tavurvur tweeted that it was "very possible" that prime minister Peter O'Neill may have not been consulted about this action.

Link here to read Tavurvur's background to this afternoon's dramatic events

Rabaul Queen: Lost in a sea of apathy


THE RABAUL QUEEN was a vessel doomed to die. When it finally turned turtle, it took with it more than 200 people - mostly children and students - most trapped in overcrowded cabins, down to the 3000m depths where it now lies.

Its story, and that of the ships that sail between Papua New Guinea's hundreds of islands, tell much about the sorry state of the nation: of hopes dashed, of good intentions and poor implementation, of apparent venality.

But the openness and persistence of an inquiry into the sinking also hint at the possibility - held out by elections approaching next month - of better prospects for the battered country of seven million.

Dozens of survivors and others affected by the tragedy have been testifying at a dramatic and horrifying commission of inquiry chaired by Australian judge Warwick Andrew into PNG's worst peacetime disaster except for earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Rabaul Queen, buffeted by heavy seas and high winds, capsized and sank soon after 5am on February 2, 17km off Finschhafen in Morobe province, near Lae.

The number who drowned is still not known because the number of passengers on the boat remains uncertain, but those already certified place the disaster as worse in such terms than Victoria's Black Saturday in 2009 and the Christchurch earthquake last year.

Children under three did not need tickets, so it is not known how many toddlers drowned.

Patilias Gamato, the deputy provincial administrator for Morobe, in whose waters the ferry sank, says he calculates there were 453 people on board, including crew - about 100 above the licensed number - and that 219 went missing.

Following the sinking, the Rabaul shipping office in Kimbe was attacked and staff were stoned, and three small boats owned by the company were seized and burned by angry people at Buka in Bougainville, where the ill-fated voyage first departed. Arson charges were laid 10 days ago.

The story has been carefully pieced together by questions from the two counsel assisting the inquiry, Brisbane barrister Mal Varitimos and his PNG colleague Emmanuel Asigau, through the hearings in Port Moresby, Lae, Kokopo, Buka and Kimbe, the final stop before the fateful voyage to Lae. Further hearings will follow in Port Moresby.

What has been uncovered in the inquiry is not merely tragic. It reveals a chain of causality from ship survey requirements that were not obeyed, overcrowding so severe that passengers stood for hours crammed into toilets, life jackets in padlocked boxes, unqualified crew to weather forecasts that went unheard.

The inquiry decided at the outset that it would cost too much - about $5.8 million - to locate and photograph the sunken ship.

George Turme, a 20-year-old university student, who paid $170 for his ticket to travel from Rabaul to Lae on the Rabaul Queen, described how the boat was packed: "The floor was full, no space for us to walk. They were lying down, squished up, head to head and shoulder to shoulder, you could not turn around."

Some male passengers were standing inside the men's toilets during the whole 17-hour voyage.

As the wind strengthened overnight, an unidentified man asked male passengers to shift to the right of the vessel, because it was listing to the left. More than 20 responded but it made no difference.

Two large waves hit the ship and turned it sideways, exposing it to the force of a third wave that caused it to start sinking. The crew pulled out life rafts, but the life jackets were kept in padlocked cupboards, according to all the passengers who have testified to the inquiry. Crew members deny they were locked. There were no life jackets for children.

Continue reading "Rabaul Queen: Lost in a sea of apathy" »

35 MPs & public servants arrested in PNG graft bust


FOLLOWING YESTERDAY’S STARTLING revelation by Papua New Guinea’s corruption busting watchdog that graft in the country’s government departments has become institutionalised, it is reported that Task Force Sweep this morning arrested 35 people including several current and former MPs as well as 24 public servants.

Commentator Tavurvur has just reported the arrests on Twitter. They follow a report by the task force that said that illegality and secrecy is sanctioned in PNG to the extent that the nation is now a "mobocracy".

Task Force Sweep yesterday presented the final report on its seven-month investigation into malpractice across government agencies.

"Generally our investigations have revealed a very frightening trend of corruption in this country," taskforce chairman Sam Koim said.

"The level of corruption has migrated from sporadic to systematic and now to institutionalisation, where government institutions are dominated by corrupt people who orchestrate corruption using lawful authorities.

"Institutions that are supposed to practice openness and provide check and balance are now becoming a secrecy haven, where they sanction illegality and secrecy."

Mr Koim described corrupt officials as a mob and said they had turned PNG from a constitutional democracy into a mobocracy.

In an early response, prime minister Peter O'Neill is reported to have said PNG needs a permanent anti-corruption body, an initiative long advocated by PNG Attitude contyributor, Barbara Short.

Task Force Sweep says PNG is a corrupt 'mobocracy'


CORRUPTION IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA's government departments has become institutionalised, where illegality and secrecy is sanctioned to the extent that the nation is now a "mobocracy".

That's what the government of PNG has been told by its corruption watchdog, Task Force Sweep, which today handed its final report on its seven-month investigation into malpractice across government agencies.

"Generally our investigations have revealed a very frightening trend of corruption in this country," taskforce chairman Sam Koim said.

"The level of corruption has migrated from sporadic to systematic and now to institutionalisation, where government institutions are dominated by corrupt people who orchestrate corruption using lawful authorities.

"Institutions that are supposed to practice openness and provide check and balance are now becoming a secrecy haven, where they sanction illegality and secrecy."

Describing corrupt officials as a mob, Mr Koim said they had turned PNG from a constitutional democracy into a mobocracy.

The full report has yet to be made public, but Mr Koim said 20 politicians will be referred to the ombudsman commission for further investigation, while 24 public servants had been suspended for "facilitating or benefiting from corruption".

Mr Koim also said more than 10 lawyers will be referred to the PNG law society for investigation.

Anti-government protest that never happened


A MASS PROTEST against the government of Papua New Guinea by union leaders in Port Moresby failed to materialise after police said they would not let it go ahead.

Businesses in the capital closed their doors this morning in preparation for the protest, after Trade Union Congress general secretary John Paska said affiliates would protest at the gates of Parliament House from 10am.

He had planned to hand prime minister Peter O'Neill a petition demanding the repeal of two laws aimed at reining in the Supreme Court and parliament's recent vote to suspend the elections by six months.

But by this afternoon fewer than 500 people gathered to hear speeches in a field near Parliament House, where mostly unarmed police cadets huddled in groups awaiting an angry march from some of the union's 70,000 members.

Student groups couldn't make it, they said, because they had exams.

Rabaul Queen: Seeking the truth behind a tragedy


Rabaul QueenSTORIES OF SHIPWRECK, real and imagined, have a special place in the archive of human misery. The notion of being lost at sea, frail souls at the mercy of the elements, taps into our most deep-set fears.

Witness the barrage of remembrances of the Titanic, a century on, and the media frenzy around the grounding of European cruise ship the Costa Concordia on the Italian coast in January this year.

Three weeks after the Costa Concordia came to grief, with the loss of 32 lives, it was still making international headlines, overshadowing news that a heavily loaded island ferry vanished in wild seas off the Papua New Guinea coast somewhere around dawn on February 2.

For a while it seemed the story of the MV Rabaul Queen was destined, like the ferry, to sink almost without trace, obscured by the bluster of the continuing maelstrom of Papua New Guinea's political crisis and by early reports that now appear to have grossly underestimated the loss of life.

Almost three months on, the truth of the tragedy - together with disturbing questions about the conditions on board the ship, its safety systems and those of PNG's maritime protocols more broadly - is surfacing in the testimony of witnesses summonsed to hearing rooms in Port Moresby and Lae.

Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen survivors have quietly provided raw firsthand insights into what is shaping up as one of the nation's most devastating recent tragedies.

George Turme, a 20-year-old university student, was the first to testify to the inquiry before Commissioner Warwick Andrew, the Australian judge heading the investigation at the request of the PNG government.

Turme swears he was in the company of more than 500 other passengers on that wild, doomed overnight voyage from the island of New Britain to the mainland port of Lae - crammed shoulder to shoulder, packed onto the heaving decks so tight that sleeping, even sitting, was impossible for most.

Turme spent most of the voyage squashed into a toilet area with other men, who assembled around the decks trying to give more protected space in the interior to women and children who spilled across the floors (there were only 50 seats on the whole vessel). It was an act of gallantry that would backfire horribly when the ship capsized.

According to the ship survey certificate presented to the inquiry, the Rabaul Queen could carry a maximum number of unberthed passengers of 295, and up to 15 crew - a total of 310.

If Turme's estimate that there were more than 500 people on board - and it is one shared by several witnesses in sworn testimony to the inquiry into the disaster, but which outstrips passenger lists drawn from official manifests by about 50 - then well over 250 souls were lost when the Rabaul Queen sank in up to 3,000 metres of water.

The true toll may never be known, not least because the lack of records for the infants carried onto the ship by their mothers, and who could not save themselves or be saved.

Turme tells of the desperate, dark hour before the ship sank, as it listed heavily to the left - several witnesses were worried that the Queen seemed to be out of balance right from the time she departed Kimbe wharf.

Around dawn someone - maybe a crew member, though it was impossible to tell as they did not wear uniforms - called on him and about 20 other men to go to the starboard side and try to balance the ship as it negotiated its way through the notoriously treacherous Viliaz Strait, which separates New Britain from the mainland.

They tried to lean out over the right side of the ship as the big waves came. ''We look out for the strong wind. So when the waves hit the ship we all bend to the right side and try to balance it,'' Turme told Commissioner Andrew.

Once, twice, when really big waves came in, they succeeded in keeping it upright but then ''another strong wave come, came and hit the ship''. It struck the back of the vessel on the starboard side and the Queen began to roll over to the left. Turme and the men with him all leapt into the water as she capsized.

Continue reading "Rabaul Queen: Seeking the truth behind a tragedy" »

PNG elections: fraud, malpractice & shotguns


THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT has been urged to arrange a regional security force, backed by a US Navy helicopter carrier, to secure the peace during Papua New Guinea's coming elections.

Scott Flower of Melbourne University has seen campaigning already under way in the violent highlands provinces in January, with money and home-made shotguns flourishing openly.

With the police diverted by states of emergency declared in two provinces last week, and the defence force down to 2000 soldiers, he doubted security resources available inside PNG were up to preventing violence, intimidation and ballot hijacking. ''I really think they will be overwhelmed,'' he said.

Dr Flower suggested Australia urgently consider organising a regional security force, possibly with helicopter support from a US Navy carrier, for the duration of the elections.

Nicole Haley, a specialist on Melanesia at the Australian National University, said the impending election was shaping up as worse than the malpractice-ridden 2007 elections.

''There is every indication that the level of malpractice will increase in 2012, not least because the stakes are higher due to the LNG project,'' she said.

Read the full story:

O’Neill fronts 10,000 protesters in Moresby


PRIME MINISTER PETER O’NEILL showed some grit today in appearing before a crowd of protesters estimated to be 10,000 strong at John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby while, in other parts of the city, looters and vandals gave police cause for concern.

But it seems doubtful that Peter O'Neill's appearance has done much to ease people's concerns about the intentions of his government. As one observer said: "He left with more questionable promises made".

To chants of “rausim, rausim” [get rid of him] from the huge crowd, Mr O’Neill entered the stadium with members of his cabinet including deputy prime minister Belden Namah.

Mr O'Neill committed his government to holding elections "on time" and to repealing the Judicial Conduct Act, but only if chief justice Salamo Injia and justice Kirriwom step down.

Social and political commentators - among them Martyn Namorong, Effrey Dademo and Tavurvur - as well as ABC journalist Liam Fox were at the protest and tweeted frequent reports.

The crowd sang the national anthem, prayed together and joined in a reading of the national pledge before being addressed by trade union leader Michael Malabag, electoral commissioner Andrew Trawen, constitutional lawyer Prof John Nonggorr and a student leader.

Petitions calling for the government to hold the national elections as scheduled and for the repeal of the Judicial Conduct Act were handed to Mr O’Neill, who, to a mixed chorus of cheers and catcalls, addressed the crowd.

Meanwhile police were busy quelling incidents in other parts of Port Moresby as criminal elements opportunistically use the social discord as a cover for violence and theft.

Shots fired at Koki as day of protest gets underway


Protest SloganTHE ABC’S LIAM FOX has just reported on Twitter that Papua New Guinea’s day of protest has started with an “ominous sign” with shots fired and cars stoned during an apparent ethnic clash at Koki in Port Moresby.

Earlier Fox had tweeted that Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen, who attended a cabinet meeting yesterday, was yet to endorse the goverment's latest plan to defer the issue of writs for the election by one month.

Demonstrators comprising unions, students, NGOs, churches and ordinary citizens assembled at Guise Stadium in Port Moresby this morning and are now marching on parliament house.

Prime minister Peter O’Neill yesterday declared that the march would be “illegal” but also said that parliament's vote to defer the national elections was not binding on the Electoral Commission.

Meanwhile prominent blogger and activist, Martyn Namorong, said this morning that the decision to postpone the election "was a violation of citizens right to stand for public office and the right to vote".

And respected commentator Tavurvur has tweeted that “the pressing requirement to be in government leading up to elections has compromised the substance of O'Namah's government”.

Tavurvur also reported “some serious conflict within the coalition” over recent events in PNG.

Parliament suspends chief justice and justice Kirriwom


PAPUA NEW GUINEA’S PARLIAMENT has voted to effectively suspend two of the nation’s top judges after chief justice Sir Salamo Injia refused to remove himself from overseeing hearings into the government’s legitimacy.

The move comes less than a week after prime minister Peter O’Neill indicated he would seek wider consultation before implementing the controversial enabling laws that allow the suspensions.

The motion to suspend Sir Salamo and Justice Nicholas Kirriwom was carried on voices at the conclusion of today’s parliamentary session.

In court earlier, Sir Salamo declined to recuse himself from the constitutional hearings.

‘No surprise, no ambush’, judge tells government


THE GOVERNMENT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA has failed in a bid to have last year's constitutional case about who is the country's legitimate leader reheard, after a judge said allowing it would sanction "legislation by surprise and ambush".

However, the court has yet to decide on whether the nation's chief justice Sir Salamo Injia and justice Nicholas Kerriwom should step aside amid allegations of bias against the government.

On 13 March a document bearing Justice Kerriwom's signature and calling on judges to defend themselves against attacks from the O'Neill government was leaked online.

The memo, leaked to the blog PNGExposed, calls on the court registrar to take out a full-page advertisement in local newspapers to defend Sir Salamo, whom the government and police have accused of mishandling the funds of a dead judge's estate.

Attorney General Allan Marat's lawyer, Tiffany Twivey, argued that the authenticity of the document was not an issue, only that it bore Justice Kerriwom's signature and had been seen by the public both online and in newspapers.

"The memo is up there and has been commented on by the public," Ms Twivey said.

"There are statements in the memo that if they are true (show an apprehension of bias).

The court will deliver its judgment on Justice Kerriwom at 9.30am tomorrow, after which government lawyers are expected to attempt to have Sir Salamo step down.

Read the full story here -

Carr sanction threat showed inexperience: Pala


AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER Bob Carr's threats of sanctions against Papua New Guinea show his inexperience, his PNG counterpart Ano Pala says.

Mr Pala was responding to a question in parliament from former attorney general Sir Arnold Amet, who wanted to know how Senator Carr explained away last week's comment on Sky News to "organise the world" into sanctions against the Pacific nation if it delayed the 2012 poll.

"We both understand that he made the comment," Mr Pala said today.

"But I understand that he made it from a place of inexperience."

The comment was met with laughs of approval from the government side.

"Inexperienced; he's inexperienced," shouted deputy prime minister Belden Namah.

Mr Pala assured parliament that Australia and PNG's relationship remained intact.

Namah ‘planned to gamble hundreds of thousands’


Belden NamahTHE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER of Papua New Guinea, Belden Namah, allegedly sexually harassed a blackjack dealer at the Star casino last year before being thrown out for threatening staff while drunk.

Despite this, the casino readmitted Mr Namah, an opposition MP at the time, after it realised he and his colleagues planned to gamble hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Herald understands.

But Mr Namah denies he is the person described in five separate incident reports, including one in which he is named by casino staff. His lawyer, Greg Sheppard, said Mr Namah ''did not misconduct himself'' at the casino.

''Until we are provided with the incident reports in question, Mr Namah is unable to comment further on how his name appears on these reports, except to say that if it does, they are mistaken,'' Mr Sheppard said….

Incident reports by staff show Mr Namah and two colleagues were gambling in the Sovereign Room for high rollers when approached about 7am on April 16 last year and asked to stop drinking ''as they were deemed to be approaching intoxication''.

A blackjack dealer's statement said that after being asked to stop drinking, Mr Namah began ''teasing me by asking my mobile number''. Mr Namah is then alleged to have asked him: ''Can I f--- you tonight?''.

When he was being removed from the casino, Mr Namah allegedly told either a manager or security guard: ''You may be big but I will knock you on your f---ing arse''.

Read the incident reports. Warning: people may find some language offensive.

Read more:

Police charge chief justice with obstruction


PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S CHIEF JUSTICE, Sir Salamo Injia, is expected to appear in court tomorrow (Wednesday) after being charged with trying to obstruct a police investigation into his management of funds.

Sir Salamo was arrested in Port Moresby yesterday afternoon three hours after being taken into police custody.

Police spokesman Superintendent Dominic Kakas says Sir Salamo was charged with obstructing a police investigation into his alleged intervention in the handling of a dead judge's estate.

Police allege the chief justice illegally redirected into court coffers 213,000 kina ($97,647) meant for the son of the late Justice Timothy Hinchliffe.

"In 2009 the complaint was made," Mr Kakas said. "We allege Sir Salamo Injia intervened and ordered the cheque be recalled and had a new cheque made to the court's staff services."

A silent Sir Salamo would not respond to questions from journalists as he was led from police headquarters to Boroko jail cells, where he was formally charged.

He was immediately released on his own recognisance and is expected to appear at Waigani local court at 11 am Wednesday.

The Queensland Bar Association has registered concern at the arrest, warning it has the potential to set an uncomfortable precedent.

"What needs to be established is that the arrest was the result of an independent police investigation and not the result of higher-level executive government interference," president of the association Roger Traves SC said in a statement.

"The executive must respect the judiciary, decisions of the court and the rule of law. To do otherwise is to reject the due performance by the court of its constitutional obligations, and hence to reject the constitution."

In December, Sir Salamo presided over the Supreme Court decision that found Prime Minister O'Neill and his supporters did not follow due constitutional process when they dumped former prime minister Sir Michael Somare from the top job.

Questions raised over landslide report findings

Tumbi landslip sceneQUESTIONS ARE EMERGING about a report into last month’s Tumbi landslide that has been released by Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Centre.

Although disaster officials say the report is only an initial assessment, it identifies heavy rainfall as the trigger for the landslide which reports say killed at least 25 people.

“The National Disaster Centre report only briefly mentions the Tumbi quarry, part of which was lost in the landslide that submerged the village directly below,” says Johnny Blades of Radio New Zealand International.

“The limestone quarry had been used by Exxon Mobil for its Liquefied Natural Gas project.

“Dave Petley, a professor of GeoHazard and Risk at Durham University, says the report lacks analysis of the quarry’s role in the landslide.

“He queries the report’s assessment of currently high groundwater levels and liquefaction as factors, saying limestone is not a material that undergoes liquefaction, and that seepage and pools are to be expected in the aftermath of a landslide.

“Meanwhile, the watchdog, LNG Watch, has questioned the collaboration of Exxon representatives and Australian officials in the NDC report.”

Meanwhile Dr-Dave Petley has compared initial landslide reports from the Tumbi Quarry disaster and a landslide in Kaikora, New Zealand in an article written for the American Geophysical Union.

Several people have asked what I mean by a proper landslide investigation with respect to the report on the Tumbi Quarry landslide.  To illustrate, one might compare these two reports:

1. The Tumbi Quarry landslide report, prepared by the National Disaster Center.

2. Report on the landslide that blocked SH 1 and the railway line near Rosy Morn Stream south of Kaikoura on 10 September 2010, prepared by GNS Science as part of the Geonet programme.

The GNS report is not long, and nor is it highly detailed.  However, it is throrough, it investiogates and describes the landslide properly, and it allows evidence-based conclusions to be drawn about he landslide and its triggers and causes.

This should be the minimum level of report for a major landslide event. Of course, in New Zealand (or indeed the UK) a landslide that killed 25 or more people would probably be investigated

Dr Dave Petley is the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

RAAF Orion returns from PNG rescue mission


RAAF AP-3C OrionAN RAAF AP-3C ORION HAS RETURNED TO DARWIN after taking part in search and rescue efforts following the sinking of a passenger ferry off Papua New Guinea.

Some 246 passengers were rescued after the MV Rabaul Queen sank in rough seas while en route from Kimbe to Lae. Reports of how many people were on board the ship have differed widely but at least 100 are believed missing.

PNG officials have scaled back rescue efforts, believing no more survivors will be found. Five bodies have so far been discovered.

The RAAF AP-3C flew search missions over the area where the ship sank. Crew discovered two survivors clinging to debris and were able to direct rescue vessels to their location, the ADF said in a statement.

“Papua New Guinea is one of our closest friends in our region and I’m very pleased that the RAAF was able to respond so promptly to this situation,” Senator David Feeney, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, said.

“The Australian government greatly regrets the loss of life following the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen and will offer any assistance we can to PNG.”

Solomon Queen and 2 other ships still held in Buka


Solomon Queen at Buka wharfTHREE SISTER SHIPS OF THE SUNKEN passenger vessel Rabaul Queen are still being detained at Buka wharf in Bougainville while talks between Rabaul Shipping continues for their release.

They include the Solomon Queen, pictured at right.

A spokesmen for the grieving relatives of those who perished, ex-combatant leader John Angamata, said the boats will be released as soon as everything is ‘sorted out’ with the shipping company.

He said guards were on board the ships to provide security for the crews and the vessels.

He said the situation was tense and he did not want ‘some opportunists’ to damage the ships.

Three Rabaul Shipping vessels seized in Buka


THE AUTONOMOUS BOUGAINVILLE GOVERNMENT has dissociated itself from an action that has resulted in three ships owned by Peter Sharp, head of Rabaul Shipping, being seized in Buka.

The vessels were commandeered by former Bouganville civil war combatants and relatives of passengers who were aboard the MV Rabaul Queen when it sank last Thursday.

Chief Bougainville government legal officer, Chris Siriosi, told a meeting in Buka that the ABG was not involved in holding the ships.

He said that the action was by relatives and ex combatants who are demanding to see Peter Sharp.

Mr Siriosi said that the ABG was interested in helping Bougainvilleans who were affected by the accident.

Judicial theatre: key crisis players summonsed by court


THE SUPREME COURT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA has ordered most of the major players involved in the recent political crisis to appear before the bench.

The court is expected to sit at 10.30 tomorrow morning.

The move comes days after prime minister Peter O'Neill announced chief justice Sir Salamo Injia was to be suspended pending an investigation into allegations he mismanaged court funds.

The court issued the order on Friday, hours after Mr O'Neill announced his government's second attempt to suspend Sir Salamo pending an investigation into his conduct by a tribunal of former judges.

"These allegations are very serious. The government has been troubled by them for some time. I've mulled over it for six months, and after wide consultation (the government) have decided on this action," Mr O'Neill said on Friday.

The court responded to the suspension order that evening, issuing a summons for Mr O'Neill, deputy PM Belden Namah and political rival Sir Michael Somare and his appointees to various government positions.

Sir Salamo presided over the five-man bench that ruled in a 3-2 decision in mid-December that Sir Michael was the leader of the government, five months after the majority of parliament voted to dump him as prime minister and from parliament.

That decision sparked a political crisis in PNG that grew into an attempted military mutiny by Somare supporters two weeks ago.

The Supreme Court summons also requires the presence of defence force chief Brigadier General Francis Agwi as well as Colonel Yaurra Saas, the man who led the failed mutiny.

Tom Kulunga, Mr O'Neill's choice for police commissioner, and Fred Yakasa, Sir Michael's choice for the top police job, have also been ordered to appear.

Rabaul Queen may have carried over 700 passengers


Rabaul QueenMORE THAN 300 PASSENGERS are believed to have perished in the disastrous sinking of the Rabaul Queen during the early hours of Thursday last week, reports the Post Courier.

Reports reaching the newspaper have said the vessel was overloaded, allegedly carrying more than 700 passengers: 400 when it left Buka, more than 100 in Rabaul, and about 360 in Kavieng and Kimbe.

This is much more than the 350 that had been quoted in the media.

Chief Executive Officer of National Maritime and Safety Authority (NMSA), Captain Nurur Rahman, had indicated the ship was overloaded adding that its certificate allowed for only 310 passengers.

Rabaul Shipping initially advised there were 350 passengers and 12 crew members on board but survivors are now testifying that there were hundreds more on board that fateful voyage.

NMSA has also advised the total number of passengers is sketchy because there was no proper manifest from Buka, Rabaul and Kimbe as many passengers bought their tickets at the wharf.

Many survivors have confirmed this information and have questioned media reports that there were 350 passengers’ destined for Lae when the ship sank.

A story published on Facebook by a relative of a survivor says: ““From my younger brother, who was on board MV Rabaul Queen when disaster struck. ‘There were actually 780 passengers on board - 420 from Rabaul/Kavieng /Buka and 360 from Kimbe. Mostly young children, mothers and students. There weren’t any emergency procedures or demonstrations when they got on the ship and the shipping agency didn’t limit passenger intakes’.”

Flood hit villages struggle to survive La Nina

New Zealand Herald


FOUR YEARS AFTER CYCLONE GUBA devastated Oro Province, torrential rain and floods attributed to the La Nina climate phenomenon have once again brought grief to village communities.

Villagers are facing food shortages, loss of fresh water supplies and disease, such as diarrhoea and malaria.

Extreme rainfall since September last year has affected 11,000 people in the province, with communities along the major Mamba, Gira and Eia rivers and in the vicinity of Kokoda and Oro Bay the worst affected.

The Kumusi, Diwune, Eroro, Sambogo, Embogo and Girua rivers have also been in flood.

Siai village, home to 300-400 Aeka people and situated close to the banks of the Kumusi River, was washed away during Cyclone Guba in 2007. After being displaced for two years, villagers returned to rebuild their homes adjacent to the river in 2009.

According to Alphonse Kubiri, Elder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Siai, the river broke its banks five months ago and constant torrential downpours into the new year have resulted in the worst flooding he has seen since 2007.

"When I was a child, I never experienced rain like this until now," Kubiri said, "This is really extreme.

"I have never seen raining and flooding like this before. Since last year, it has been flooding every day and there is no sign that the weather is changing."

While this time the people of Siai have remained in their homes and there have been no casualties to date, the village's only source of fresh water, a natural spring, has been unusable since the rising river contaminated it with mud and detritus.

Now the villagers are collecting water in plastic buckets and cooking pots, but the amount captured only lasts for one day.

"We badly need water tanks," said a village resident, John Huw. "No one has come yet to help with the water."

Long-term water storage is urgently needed by the community to protect against the impact of future natural disasters.

The swollen river has also drowned food gardens, destroying crops of pumpkin, kaukau, banana and taro.

Waterlogged fruit and vegetables have rotted quickly in the high tropical heat and humidity.

"People are just surviving on sago and bananas," said Kubiri.

"There are some types of bananas that grow very tall and are not affected by flooding."

"We are living on bananas," Huw confirmed. "Sometimes we do not have enough food to eat."

Flooding has also damaged firewood used for cooking, while lack of clean water and spoiled crops have led to an increased incidence of diarrhoea.

The Oro Provincial Disaster Centre has been delivering food to affected communities in the province.

According to the PNG Red Cross, which is coordinating emergency relief, people are in need of food, fresh water, mosquito nets, water containers, hygiene kits and shelter.

Momis backs inquiry into ‘Rabaul Queen’ disaster

New Dawn FM /PNG Exposed

Rabaul Shipping adAMIDST GROWING CLAIMS THAT THE VESSEL WAS OVERLOADED, the president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, John Momis, has called for a full inquiry into the Rabaul Queen sinking that claimed well over 100 lives.

Mr Momis made these comment when sending his condolences to the families of those people who lost their lives in the tragic accident.

He said that the probe into this disaster would determine the cause and those found guilty should face the full force of the law.

He said he fully supports the call by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to set up an inquiry into the sinking.

Mr Momis said the ABG plans to start up education institutions on Bougainville so Bougainvillean students can study in the province instead of taking risks looking for education institutions elsewhere.

He also said the ABG has plans to purchase its own passenger boat to serve its own people.

The Bougainville Disaster Office said that 46 passengers from Bougainville were on the Rabaul Queen.

Rabaul Shipping advertisement courtesy of PNG Exposed (left click for enhanced version)

Estimated 112 people missing from ‘Rabaul Queen’


Three life rafts from the MV Rabaul Queen float above the sunken hull of the ferryRESCUERS BATTLING BIG WAVES and strong winds have pulled nearly 250 people from the sea after the sinking of the Rabaul Queen. More than 110 people remain missing.

Crews in ships, planes and helicopters continued to scour the warm seas. PNG's National Maritime Safety Authority rescue coordinator, Capt Nurur Rahman, said he had not given up hope of finding more survivors, though the swell and winds were rising and some victims may have been trapped inside the sunken ferry.

"I do not presume them to be dead yet," he told the ABC.

Owners of MV Rabaul Queen, the Rabaul Shipping Company, said there had been 350 passengers and 12 crew aboard the 22-year-old Japanese-built ferry when it went down yesterday morning while travelling from Kimbe to Lae. A police official said most of those aboard were students.

"We are stunned and utterly devastated by what has happened," managing director Peter Sharp said in a statement.

The company said the cause of the disaster remained unclear, but National Weather Service chief Sam Maiha told the Post-Courier that shipping agencies had been warned to keep ships moored this week because of strong winds.

An official at the scene told the newspaper that the ferry capsized in rough seas and sank four hours later.

Capt Rahman said the sea temperature was above 20 degrees - warm enough for people to survive for an extended period.

"Because of the proximity of the shore, I still have high hopes to have many more survivors," he said.

He said the ferry sank in one-kilometer deep water, making it difficult to determine whether bodies were trapped inside.

The survivors were delivered to Lae.

"None of them had sustained any real injuries. They were pretty cold and miserable," Lae Chamber of Commerce president Alan McLay told Sky News television.

The company said the ferry's captain had made routine radio contact with another vessel before sinking and gave no indication anything was wrong.

Prime minister Peter O'Neill said the cause of the accident was unknown, but acknowledged that safety in the shipping industry was lax.

"We need to bring some safety measures back into this industry," O'Neill told reporters.

Chief justice ousted for 2nd time in new crisis


FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THREE MONTHS the O’Neill government has suspended chief justice Sir Salamo Injia pending an investigation into how he dealt with court funds.

"These allegations are very serious,” prime minister Peter O’Neill said. “The government has been troubled by them for some time. I've mulled over it for six months, and after wide consultation we have decided on this action."

Mr O'Neill said he expected a tribunal – comprising ex-judges Graham Ellis, Paul Akuram and Sir Kubulan Los - to complete an investigation within the next three months.

Update: 'Rabaul Queen' sinking - 238 now rescued


1945 - AMSA continues to provide assistance to the PNG Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in coordinating search efforts. Eight merchant vessels remain on scene and have reported that 238 survivors have been recovered by five of the ships. It is expected that the five ships will passage towards Lae overnight. Arrangements for transferring survivors will be made by PNG authorities.

1920 - The most recent number of survivors of the Rabaul Queen tragedy is 220.

1640 - "Our hearts go out to those affected by the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen," Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says. “I spoke to my counterpart, PNG Foreign Minister Ano Pala, to inform him that Australia stands ready to offer all necessary assistance."

1615 – The ABC reports that 193 survivors have now been rescued by 8 vessels on the scene supported by 3 helicopters.  More people are visible in life rafts. The passengers were mainly students and teachers returning for the start of the new school year.  Search and rescue planes are now in operation over the site. Weather conditions are described as reasonable.

1610 - Australian prime minister Julia Gillard says there is likely to be a very high death toll from the sinking of the Rabaul Queen. "There has been a boat go down in PNG with, as we understand it, 350 people on board," Ms Gillard told reporters in Melbourne. "This is obviously a major tragedy. We have been asked to provide assistance to PNG and we are providing assistance to PNG."

1600 - [Maritime Matters] The 1983-built passenger/cargo ship MV Rabaul Queen, with a gross tonnage 259 flagged in Papua New Guinea is believed to have sunk in bad weather with as many as 350 people on board. The operators Star Ships said it lost contact with the vessel at about 6AM on Thursday while enroute between Kimbe and Lae. A distress signal was sent by the ship.

PNG’s National Maritime Safety Authority said the ship had capsized but it was awaiting more details from officials on the site. “We don’t have any accurate information as yet, a search and rescue team went out early this morning but they haven’t got back to us yet,” a spokeswoman said.

Star Ships added that some survivors have been found, one report said that at least 28 passengers has been rescued [now confirmed as 50], while many more were in the water in life jackets at this time.

1545 - It is reported that 28 people have been rescued from the water.  These people are now aboard one vessel. Authorities are not able to confirm how many people were on the Rabaul Queen other than to say the complement was "probably around 300".

1430 - The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is currently providing assistance to the Papua New Guinea Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre which is coordinating a rescue involving a passenger vessel, the MV Rabaul Queen.

The vessel is reported to have sunk approximately 16 km off Finschhafen while on a voyage from Kimbe to Lae. There are believed to be 350 people on board.

At 07:25am AEDT today, AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre received an initial satellite detection of a distress beacon belonging to the passenger vessel MV Rabaul Queen. This information was immediately communicated to the PNG Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.

AMSA consequently broadcast a message to shipping in the area and requested shipping to advise of their ability to respond and estimated time of arrival. A number of vessels responded and six merchant vessels are currently on scene, four of which are recovering survivors.

In addition, three local helicopters are on scene searching for survivors and relaying location details to the vessels.

The master of one of the vessels, the Mol Summer, has been appointed on scene coordinator and has reported that approximately 50 people have been rescued so far.

AMSA’s dedicated search and rescue Dornier aircraft based in Cairns has now arrived on scene. The Dornier has multiple life rafts on board and the capability to drop them to survivors in the water.

Further fixed wing aviation search assets have also been tasked by AMSA, including an Australian Defence Force PC3 Orion aircraft (due on scene at approximately 4pm AEDT) and AMSA’s Darwin-based Dornier (due on scene later this afternoon). Both of these assets are capable of aerial stores delivery including life rafts.

AMSA is further assisting the PNG Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre by providing search area planning and drift modelling.

AMSA and the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre are working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby.

Earlier reports of fine weather conditions have been contradicted by vessels on scene. There are currently strong north-westerly winds at 40kts, and a five-metre sea swell.
Two dedicated AMSA search and rescue Dornier aircraft will remain in PNG overnight.

Details of Friday’s search are yet to be determined by PNG MRCC but it is expected that air and surface searches will be ongoing. Four AMSA search and rescue personnel are currently en route to PNG to provide further assistance to the coordinating authority. They are due to arrive late this evening.

Starships ferry missing with 350 people on board


Rabaul QueenMORE THAN 300 PEOPLE are feared missing after a boat accident between Lae and Kimbe.

PNG's National Maritime Safety Authority said the vessel Rabaul Queen [pictured] owned by Starships Ferries sent a distress signal at about 8.30 this morning.

Rescue coordinator Fred Siroi said he will make a public statement later in the day.

Australian diplomatic staff are monitoring the situation.

Spotter: Peter Kranz

Intimidation is 'nonsense', says Peter O'Neill

AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

PRIME MINISTER PETER O'NEILL says accusations police are intimidating his political rival Sir Michael Somare are nonsense.

Sir Michael's daughter, Betha, sent an email to journalists on Tuesday alleging members of her father's cabinet were being intimidated by police, days after the Somare faction launched a failed mutiny of PNG's armed forces.

"I wish to advise that many of Sir Michael's cabinet members are now under intimidation by the PNG Royal Constabulary," she said.

When pressed about the nature of the intimidation, Ms Somare replied "they are threatening Sir Michael's people with arrest but we do not know on what charges".

Prime Minister O'Neill says police are carrying out investigations into the failed mutiny, during which 30 soldiers tried to change the military high command and reinstall the minority Somare government.

"This is a normal police investigation carried out in the lawful way a major crime is investigated," he told the Post Courier.

"If there is evidence that Sir Michael Somare, or (his son) Arthur Somare or (his police minister) Andrew Kumbakor was involved, they will be subjected to the full force of the law.

"It is utter nonsense for Somare to suggest that myself, or Deputy PM Namah, is pushing and intimidating police to arrest him."

During the crisis, Betha Somare told journalists via text message that Sir Michael and his cabinet had backed the mutiny attempt.

Big men of PNG begin political posturing

The Fairfax media group assigned JO CHANDLER to cover the political crisis in PNG. In this article Jo puts the attempted coup into context

Home alone - Sir Michael SomareWITH PAPUA NEW GUINEA's five-yearly general election just four months away, outsiders could be excused for being baffled by the desperate, damaging battle for power now consuming Port Moresby.

Why bother, given that the people - not the courts or the politicians - will soon resolve the Constitutional conundrum of who has the legitimate mandate to govern?

The answer was graphically illustrated in events engineered by the rival political supremos yesterday.

Read the full article here:

Mutinous troops surrender weapons to Belden Namah

ABC CORRESPONDENT LIAM FOX reports on Twitter that the remaining soldiers holed up at Taurama Barracks have surrendered their weapons after discussions with deputy prime minister and defence minister Belden Namah.

Mr Namah says that he will seek Cabinet's approval to grant an amnesty to the mutinous troops, but only this once.

He has told them that there is only one government in Papua New Guinea and that is the government of Peter O'Neill.

Live blog: Agwi freed; Sasa being 'dealt with', says O'Neill



1900 The updates will continue later if there are further developments

1815 The ABC’s Liam Fox [Liam (Old Irish, noun)= he who is first with the news] reports Peter O'Neill saying that Brig Gen Agwi has been freed, soldiers involved have withdrawn to Taurama Barracks and Col Sasa is being "dealt with". The prime minister “wouldn't clarify”, says Fox. The ABC is also reporting that all domestic airports in PNG are closed (thanks Peter Kranz).

1810 Y'know it's eerily quiet.  If this was a western, I'd be expecting the hail of arrows.  It's all tenter and no hook. And we've got 2,000 readers needing a fix.

You can now read a transcript of retired Papua New Guinea General Jerry Singirok’s interview with Radio Australia here

And watch Damien Kingsbury, professor of international relations at Deakin University, speaking to Al Jazeera on the PNG political situation


1805 “Is a military coup in PNG just around the corner?” contributor Paul Oates asked last year. “Given the 'solidarity' being expressed by PM Somare for [the] Fiji coup leader, it wouldn't take much for some PNG soldiers see a parallel 'window of opportunity'.I’d take a lottery ticket on the back of that prescience, Paul

Col Yara Sasa

1740 The man claiming to be the new commander of Papua New Guinea’s Defence Force, retired Col Yauara Sasa [pictured] denies he conducted a mutiny this morning. “It looks as though it’s a military coup but it is not a military coup. I’m restoring, I’m intervening to restore the constitution and that means all - that is also the public servants, heads of the departments, statutory bodies and institutions - comply with what (the court has decided). The court has made its decision but nobody seems to be adhering to the court decisions. So what does that mean: the court has no powers now?”

1640 Still no news, but plenty of entertainment. “All indications are that Namah and O’Neill will still be in power and the Somare regime may face High Treason charges for trying to overthrow the state. But hey this is the fucking land of the unexpected and I'm just a drunk blogger writing this nonsense for you with loud music in the background. OMG, just ran out of alcohol. Maybe PNG also has ran out of sanity” – Martyn Namorong at his intemperate best.  Read more here

1620 The deadline for the surrender of the army mutineers has come and gone.  So far no reports of action. Peter O’Neill is believed to have been in the Southern Highlands at the scene of the tragic Tari landslide. Sir Michael Somare is maintaining a sullen silence.

1610 Liam Fox (ABC) tweets that he has heard that Jacksons (international) airport has been closed. Could this be to stop incoming support for the mutineers or to prevent pro-Somare people from getting out of town?

1515 More from Peter Kranz about the Belden Namah media conference. Quotes from Namah - "Somare has now lost the total respect of the country he fought for independence (for). He was the chief minister, the first prime minister. He is the grand chief. I want to say this to Somare: You have lost your mind. You have lost total control of yourself. You have lost your mind. You have lost sanity."

Mr Namah said 15 of the 30 men loyal to Sasa and Somare had been arrested but those numbers cannot be verified. He said the army officers had until 4.06pm to surrender or face the full force of the law.

1500 So let’s try to recap the critical elements in the latest crisis to envelope Papua New Guinea; a crisis triggered by a mutineer colonel who paradoxically says he is trying to alleviate a crisis.

Just before 3 pm there’s a little over an hour left before deputy prime minister Belden Namah’s deadline expires for the rebel soldiers to surrender – 4.06 pm, the official public service knock-off time.

Brigadier General Francis Agwi has been placed under house arrestThere seems to be less than 100 of them under the command of retired colonel Yaura Sasa, apparently commissioned by the ‘Somare cabinet’ to take control of the Army from its rightful commander, Brig Gen Francis Agwi [pictured], who is variously said to be under house arrest or, according to Sasa, not under house arrest.

Commander Sasa appears to have taken control of the Murray and Taurama barracks in an attempt to restore the Somare government and claims the authority of the Supreme Court and the PNG Constitution to justify his extreme actions.

So far prime minister Peter O’Neill has not made any public statement but was said to be wanting to visit the barracks with loyal troops, although this could not be confirmed.

Air Niugini flights to Lae, Wewak, Vanimo and Kiunga - all close to Army bases– have been suspended to deter soldiers likely to be sympathetic to the Somare faction from travelling to Port Moresby.

Meanwhile Port Moresby is reported to be quiet.

Live blog: Mutiny leader gives MPs 7 days to resolve 'crisis'



1425 Sir Michael's Somare’s daughter and spokeswoman, Betha, has told journalists that Sir Michael ordered Colonel Yaura Sasa to take control of Papua New Guinea's Army.

Ms Somare said a decision was taken by Sir Michael's cabinet to install the retired soldier as head of the defence force, replacing Francis Agwi. "A decision was taken by Somare's cabinet for Col Yaurra Sasa to take charge of the PNGDF," Betha Somare said.

AAP reports that Commander Sasa appears to have taken control of the Murray and Taurama barracks.  He has also held two press conferences in the office of arrested Army Commander Agwi.

An army officer at Murray Barracks, who asked not to be named, told AAP the gates had been locked in anticipation of the arrival of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and troops loyal to him.

Police say they are monitoring the situation.  Spokesman Dominic Kakas told AAP Commander Sasa may be in control of 20 to 100 troops.

Col Sasa denied reports in the PNG media that Commander Agwi was under "lock and key", telling journalists the veteran soldier who denied Sir Michael's request for a military intervention in December was not under house arrest

1400 We, where were we? Peter Kranz reports:

Colonel Sasa gave a news conference at around 1:00.  He claims he is just trying to enforce the Constitution and decision of the Supreme Court and was appointed by Somare yesterday to take control of the PNGDF. Some astute journos asked what he would do if Parliament met and merely confirmed O'Neill as PM (as it already has done). He refused to be drawn, other than saying if it wasn't sorted out he would take 'necessary actions.'

Later deputy prime minister Belden Namah gave a press conference and stated that some of the soldiers involved in the action have been arrested (by the police presumably).  He has given Sasa till 4:00 to step down.  Meanwhile he has ordered the suspension of Air Niugini flights to Lae, Wewak, Vanimo and Kiunga - all close to Army bases likely to be sympathetic to the Somare faction.  This was against the background of reports that some Army units were mobilising and travelling to Port Moresby.

A tambu [close friend] in Moresby in an email to me states "the O’Neill side condemns the action saying that it’s an act out of desperation by the Somare faction. Nothing has eventuated around the Waigani government offices towards the parliament as yet.

“There is now a heavy policy presence around the various MPs houses and offices. The streets are quiet and businesses are normal as usual around Waigani. I think the commotion is around Konedobu and around the Murray Barracks towards 3 Mile and 2 Mile…

“The general election for PNG is just months away and I don’t know when this political impasse will ever stop and the MPs prepare for the election. What a Land of the Unexpected…"

1200 Trouble with one man bands is that the band needs to take a break sometimes.  We'll resume here in about two hours.  Meanwhile keep the feedback flowing.

1155 Blogger Martyn Namorong reports that Col Yaura Sasa is from Morobe Patrol Post in the Huon Gulf area and is an elder brother of Hon Zibe Sasa, PNG’s Health Minister

1150 The man who has staged a raid on a military barracks in Papua New Guinea has given MPs a seven day deadline to resolve the country's political crisis, or he will resort to force, but claims he is not staging a mutiny or a military takeover. Retired Colonel Yaura Sasa declared himself commander after his soldiers placed Brig Gen Francis Agwi under house arrest.

1130 The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade called on the O'Neill government to quickly resolve the crisis. ''We are concerned about these developments overnight in Port Moresby,'' it said. ''We urge that the situation be resolved as soon as possible, and that the PNGDF chain of command is restored.''

Australia's High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Ian Kemish, spoke earlier today with Mr O'Neill, DFAT said. ''Mr O'Neill told the High Commissioner authorities were taking steps to manage the situation,'' a statement said. ''The Head of the Australian Defence Staff at the High Commission has also talked with Brigadier Agwi. 'We understand that discussions underway within the PNGDF to resolve the matter.”

1125 The leader of the overnight army mutiny has demanded the return of Sir Michael Somare to the prime ministership, reports The Australian newspaper. Colonel Yaura Sasa, a former defence attaché to Indonesia, who arrested the country's military commander Brigadier Francis Agwi and placed him under house arrest, has given the nation's politicians seven days to decide who is in charge of the country.

He says he has taken control of PNG's military following discussions with Brigadier Agwi. ''My task is restoring the integrity and respect of the constitution and the judiciary,'' Colonel Sasa told reporters from the commander's office in Murray Barracks.

''I am now calling on the head of state (Governor General Sir Michael Ogio) to immediately implement Sir Michael's post as prime minister.''

He said Mr O'Neill must recall parliament and gave PNG's 109 MPs a seven-day deadline to ''sort out'' the constitutional mess.

The gates of Murray Barracks have been locked and Mr O'Neill is expected to go to the barracks with troops loyal to him.

There have been no reports of any injuries or gunfire so far, nor any sign of police involvement.

1115 The leader of the mutiny has been identified by commentator Nou Vada as Colonel Yaura Sasa, commanding officer Charlie Company , 1 PIR

1105 Email from Bruce Hill at Radio Australia with a note on an interview worth catching up with: “I spoke to General Singirok about the mutiny about an hour ago. We played the full seven minute interview with him of Phil Kafkaloudes morning program just before 11am, and a 20 second clip from it is currently being played in our news bulletins.

“Gen Singirok says essentially that this is a problem caused by the Somare-O’Neill political standoff, and he’s called on the Speaker to reconvene parliament so the impasse can be dealt with once and for all. He admitted that ethnic loyalties are still clearly a factor within the PNGDF, suggested that more resources are needed to ensure the professionalism and neutrality of the military, and offered his own services as a mediator if required.

“We will be playing the interview again in Pacific Beat at 4pm Melbourne time today.”

1020 Reporter Ruth Rungula from EMTV says US Embassy representatives are at Murray Barracks PNGDF HQ

1015 "The streets of Port Moresby are calm. National TV is broadcasting the Adelaide [India v Australia] test," reports Martyn Namorong. "Eyewitnesses report that Taurama Barracks is swarming with fully armed soldiers."

1010 "At this stage it is not clear if the incident is related to the conflict between Peter O'Neill and Sir Michael Somare over the country's prime ministership, or if it is the work of disgruntled soldiers," the ABC says on its website.

0955 "We in PNG don't want Somare and the Chinese back in power," tweets award-winning blogger Martyn Namorong 

0945  The Melbourne Herald Sun reports: “Armed soldiers - some with camouflage paint on their faces - were preventing reporters from entering the Murray Military Barracks this morning, but they are expected to be taken to a commander soon. AAP's reporter at the scene says the soldiers say the barracks are under their ‘operational command’ and there are rumours of a change in command.”

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has advised Australians to limit travel around Port Moresby today "due to disturbances at Murray and Taurama Barracks".

0915 Peter Kranz reports from Twitter sources (unverified) that soldiers are being organised to enforce the orders of the Supreme Court to reinstate Sir Michael.

Martyn Namorong says that the former defence attaché to Indonesia, a Colonel Safa, has now declared himself PNGDF commander.

0845  A possible attempted military coup is underway in Papua New Guinea with top military officers reported to be under house arrest.
The mutinous troops are operating under the name Operasin Strongim Konstituson [Operation Support the Constitution].

Among other officers, Francis Agwi the Defence Force commander, and Kyrie Eleison, the Commanding Officer of Taurama Barracks, are said to have been placed under house arrest by around 40 soldiers this morning.

Trade union leader Michael Malabag has commented: “Just what is going on now is the evil hand of politicians infiltrating the Defence Force of PNG. I am very concerned about this latest development.”

Radio Australia says supporters of former prime minister Sir Michael Somare are believed to have staged the raid on Murray Barracks early in the day.

A report just in from the ABC's PNG correspondent Liam Fox says: “At about 3:00am today a group of between 12 and 20 soldiers are believed to have raided the defence force headquarters at Murray Military Barracks and placed the head of the army, Brigadier General Francis Agwi, under house arrest.

“The ABC understands that a new commander has been sworn in. The raid on the barracks is believed to have been peaceful.”

Eyewitness accounts from readers can be sent here.  Comments from readers are also welcome [below]

Weapons have been released and orders given for the O'Neill/Namah cabinet and police commissioner Kulunga to be arrested.

An unnamed sources is quoted as saying: “We are now under military edict. Anyone resisting arrest will be shot. Orders have been issued to that effect.”