Beleaguered Chan faces new pressures to resign

 

THE Commonwealth last night stepped in to try to resolve the constitutional crisis in Papua New Guinea as the beleaguered Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, came under increasing pressure to resign. Four cabinet ministers have quit and said another four from the 28 strong cabinet would follow before a proposed parliamentary resolution against Sir Julius today.

A tearful Minister for Agriculture, Mr David Mai, said the decision to hire foreign mercenaries which has sparked the crisis was never discussed at cabinet or parliamentary level and was illegal.

"I have five children and I want to do the best for them and for my country," said Mr Mai. "It is with great regret that I tender my resignation."

Even the Governor General of the Pacific nation of 3.5 million, Sir Wiwa Korowi, said it was time for Sir Julius to go. The army - it mutinied last Monday because of the planned use of mercenaries against rebels on the island of Bougainville - has stepped up its demands for the Prime Minister to step down and for a caretaker government to be appointed.

In Canberra, Australia, yesterday, the Commonwealth Secretary, General Chief Emeka Anyaoku, discussed the situation with the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, and spoke to the main players in Port Moresby ahead of a visit.

There is growing concern among 10,000 Australian expatriates on Papua New Guinea about how political events could turn in this most unpredictable of nations.

Chief Emeka said he was very worried as events threatened to challenge the democratic and constitutional values of the whole Commonwealth. "I am indeed very concerned because in many countries of the Commonwealth including my own country, Nigeria, the disregarding of constitutions has led to great troubles. I'm very keen that PNG should be spared that awful start."

At Murray Barracks in Port Moresby, the leader of the mutiny and the former commander of the PNG defence force, Brig Gen Singirok gathered 500 soldiers and, called for solidarity to drive Sir Julius from power.

"I am no Messiah. I am only an instrument. I humble myself I don't deserve to get this glory. But I cannot put up with decisions that do not reflect the people's need."

Although it was the mercenary plan which sparked the army's revolt, attention has now turned to the endemic corruption which plagues PNG and the role of politicians in it.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries leader, Col Tim Spicer, a former British army lieutenant, was in court in Port Moresby charged with the illegal possession of a firearm. He denied the charge. He was refused permission to go overseas for medical treatment.

Col Spicer, who is also the chief executive of British based Sandline International which brokered the stg£23 million mercenaries deal, was bailed for two weeks and must remain at the British High Commission. He will also give evidence at a judicial inquiry set up by Sir Julius into the deal next week.

At a press conference, the 44 year old Falklands veteran said of the abortive plan: "It wasn't a roaring success." But he added: "I don't think we'd have done anything different. It's unfortunate the way things turned out."