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Military crisis ends in Papua New Guinea

Defense chief fired after peaceful revolt

March 18, 1997
Web posted at: 3:08 p.m. EST (2008 GMT)

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (CNN) -- Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan said Tuesday that he had quashed an attempted coup against his government, and threatened to arrest the military chief who challenged his rule.

"The government is in absolute, complete control of the situation," Chan said. "The institution of democracy is alive and well in Papua New Guinea."

Defense Force commander Brigadier General Jerry Singirok on Monday had demanded Chan's resignation. Singirok objected to Chan's use of mercenary soldiers to quell a secessionist rebellion on the island province of Bougainville.

Singirok had ordered his troops to detain the mercenaries and stop cooperating with the government. But Chan fired Singirok late Monday, and the Australian-trained general accepted his dismissal Tuesday and called on his troops to remain calm.

The prime minister ordered the release of about 40 mercenaries, who were being held by government soldiers in a remote camp where they had been training Papua New Guinea troops. His plans to use the mercenaries against the rebels on Bougainville would continue, he said.

Chan called Singirok's action one of the country's worst political crises, and said the general was "guilty of gross insubordination bordering on treason." Chan, who faces a national election in June, also speculated that Singirok had "a number of political agendas" in play.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in the nine-year revolt on Bougainville, which began as a protest against a copper mine but escalated into a guerrilla war for secession.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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