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IN RUINS: Soldiers (bottom right) survey the remains of the intelligence, stores and administration building on Saturday morning at the Moem barracks. Picture by Robyn Sela (Post Courier)


THE two-week mutiny at Moem Barracks in Wewak, East Sepik province, is finally over following a daring daylight raid on the rebel elements by a group of soldiers loyal to the Government on Saturday afternoon. Only two shots were fired in the process -- and no one was injured in the successful disarming of the mutinous troops, which was completed in less than an hour. The rebels were in fact fast asleep when the raid took place, having been on alert and on guard the previous night after being tipped that a dawn or dusk raid was imminent, The National was reliably informed. As of last night, normalcy was slowing returning to the barracks as back-up troops were flown in from Port Moresby. Defence chief of staff, navy Captain Tom Ur confirmed the success of the Moem raid on national television on Saturday night. The Defence hierarchy at Moem confirmed yesterday that in the past 48 hours: Eleven ringleaders were in police custody at Kreer Heights because the military cells were not functional; Ten other associates were in military custody at the Moem guard house; A combined PNGDF-police operation was underway to track down and arrest at least two ring leaders still at large; A 7pm to 5am curfew has been imposed in the barracks to deter the possible smuggling of weapons and personnel who may be wanted for questioning over the mutiny which started on March 8; and A 25-man reinforcement group comprising infantry troops from Taurama, and military and intelligence personnel from Murray Barracks had set up camp at Moem to search for missing weapons and interrogate the rebel troops for possible disciplinary charges. Moem Barracks acting commanding officer Major Willie Janguan told The National that a total of 120 weapons are missing from the main Q store after the March 8 break-in by the rebel soldiers. These included three automatic rifles (ARs), 28 M16 A2 Bush Masters, 68 SLRs, and an unknown quantity of hand grenades. Only the ammunition that was stolen from the magazines on the morning of March 9 was recovered during Saturday's raid. The raid that led to the disarming of the mutinous soldiers took less than an hour to complete but the planning took a week. It involved the use of a patrol boat which anchored off the west coast of East Sepik, 11 officers and men who had fled the barracks two weeks earlier, and troops loyal to the Government who were inside the barracks. Defence personnel declined to comment on the finer aspects of the operation. The raid started at about 2.30pm on Saturday when the 11 loyal soldiers stormed the main Moem gates in a 10-seater Landcruiser, surprised the two guards and disarmed them. While two of the loyal troops kept watch on the disarmed guards, the rest of the raiding party swooped on the Charlie Company quarters, where most of the mutinous soldiers were from. The sleeping rebels were quickly disarmed, handcuffed and led outside where the ringleaders were identified. The others were nabbed at the main gate when they returned from forays into town. Wewak town's only horse betting shop was also raided by armed servicemen who searched for one alleged ringleader who had escaped, but he later gave himself up after being given an ultimatum. Major Janguan last night praised the officers and men involved in the successful operation. "It happened so fast that they (the mutineers) did not know what hit them. It worked perfectly, God coordinated it," he said. "Fortunately, there were no injuries and only one shot was fired, inside the barracks, to quieten the rebel soldiers as they were arrested and handcuffed." As of Saturday, he issued official briefs which included: The seven-day curfew which expires on March 30; Taking stock of weapons and ammunition missing or otherwise; Checking all personnel in the barracks, and recalling those who have fled; Recalling those who fled the province to return to Moem by Wednesday; and For normal working days to restart on Thursday. The National understands that details of the Moem Barracks liberation and the fate of the mutineers will be made public at a media conference at the Murray Barracks headquarters today.

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PX CANCELS ALL WEWAK FLIGHTS by Yehiura Hriehwazi (The National 22/3/02)

THE Moem Barracks soldiers' standoff has escalated into a serious security concern for Air Niugini, resulting in cancellation of all flights in and out of Wewak since Wednesday. Responding to questions from The National, Air Niugini's safety manager, Captain Peter Sharpe, said: "The airline is taking precautionary measures in the interest of passenger and aircraft safety while awaiting assurances from local authorities in Wewak that the provision of security is adequately covered for flights to resume." East Sepik provincial police commander Leo Kabilo said late yesterday that he had sent a facsimile to Capt Sharpe assuring him of the safety of aircraft. However, Air Niugini said in a statement yesterday that it was monitoring the situation daily and hoped to resume the flights as soon as the safety of its aircraft was guaranteed. About 100 passengers and 350 kg of cargo have not been moved in or out of Wewak since the airline suspended all Wewak flights, Air Niugini spokeswoman Ms Eva Arni told The National yesterday. Ms Arni said: "Air Niugini has cancelled flights to and from Wewak effective yesterday (Wednesday) owing to some security concerns around Wewak." The Wednesday flight PX 126 operated only from Port Moresby to Madang and yesterday PX 125 went only as far as Madang to Port Moresby. "The situation is being closely monitored," it said, adding that flight plans would be reviewed daily. "Latest news today, flights remain suspended," the statement said. Air Niugini operates 10 flights per week to Wewak. The average number of passengers flying in and out of Wewak stands at 380 per week. Air Niugini said the number of passengers affected on Wednesday and yesterday was about 100, with approximately 350 kg of cargo held back each way. "Cargo agents have been notified of flight suspensions and are delaying shipment," the airline said. Meanwhile, a small airline company operated by the churches, Missionary Aviation Fellowship, has asked Wewak police for special protection for their aircraft. Mr Kabilo told The National he believed the situation at Moem Barracks was quiet and he appealed to business houses and the general public not to panic. He expressed disappointment over Air Niugini's unilateral decision to cancel flights without seeking his assessment on the security situation. Mr Kabilo said he had transmitted a facsimile message to Capt Sharpe yesterday to reassure him of the safety of Air Niugini aircraft servicing Wewak.

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'Machine gun parade' sparks panic in Wewak (Post-Courier 20/3/02)

RENEGADE soldiers from Moem Barracks, fully armed and clad in battle gear, mounted a large machine gun on a vehicle and drove through Wewak town and onto the Sepik Highway yesterday morning, prompting calls for the immediate disarmament of the rebellious PNG Defence Force troops. East Sepik provincial police commander Leo Kabilo wants the soldiers disarmed as soon as possible and army vehicles recovered from them. He said he believes that a sizeable quantity of arms and ammunition stolen from the Moem Barracks armoury has left the barracks and is now in the wrong hands. About 700 weapons including mortars and grenade launchers could have left the barracks. (Details / Page 2). Mr Kabilo called on the top brass of the PNGDF to go into Moem Barracks as soon as possible and bring the situation under control before the election process commences in two weeks' time. Wewak business houses, the general public and even people living along the highway and in the villages are living in fear after what happened yesterday morning, said Mr Kabilo. One third-level airline even requested permission to tow its aircraft away and keep it under cover, said Mr Kabilo. Meanwhile, a Moem Barracks soldier, identified as Obed Kara, is now being held in police custody for allegedly selling an AR15 rifle to a Western Highlands man, Michael Wanis, for K4,000. Mr Wanis, of Kala village, appeared before the Wewak District Court yesterday, pleaded guilty and was fined K400. The rifle was found inside a bag of betelnuts belonging to Mr Wanis just before it was loaded onto an aircraft bound for Mount Hagen. Mr Kabilo expressed concern over security during the forthcoming general elections, safety of business houses and the general public and demanded that the renegade soldiers be immediately contained and neutralized. He said criminal elements were waiting for any opportunity to spark a riot and loot shops. "The general election is only two weeks away. I want the defence hierarchy to address the matter as soon as possible." "I don't want this problem being dragged into the elections. The people must be free to exercise their constitutional right to cast their votes without being under any force or influence from anybody," Mr Kabilo said from Wewak. He said the actions of a handful of soldiers in mounting a machine gun on a vehicle and parading through the town in full battle gear was totally unwarranted, causing panic in the town and the villages. "Wewak business houses are feeling uneasy and fearful of what might happen," said Mr Kabilo. He said the soldiers should confine their activities within the barracks as they had promised.

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700 MOEM WEAPONS MAY BE ON LOOSE by Jim Baynes of AAP (Post-Courier 20/3/02)

MORE than 700 stolen military weapons, including mortars, machine guns and grenades, may be circulating in Wewak, East Sepik province -- the scene of a tense standoff between rebel soldiers and the Government. In a twist to the 11-day occupation of Moem Barracks, authorities are more concerned with the amount of weapons unaccounted for with an election just three months away, rather than the weapons in possession of the mutineers. While the PNG Defence Force top brass expect to negotiate an end to the revolt by this weekend, they refuse to rule out the possibility of a military siege on the rebels, who are still holding seven officers hostage with their shrivelled band of about 15 rebels. A spokesman for the Member for Wewak, Bernard Narokobi, yesterday said the only weapons accounted for so far were those strapped to the shoulders of the renegades -- leaving more than 700 in the hands of non-soldiers. "Reliable sources in the community say those firearms are now in the community, not in the barracks," said the spokesman. "There is nothing in the barracks. The only (weapons) in the barracks are those in the hands of the renegades." Defence Force chief of staff Captain Tom Ur said only 128 weapons were missing and said it was military policy not to reveal the size of such an armoury. Capt Ur admitted, however, the armoury and ammunition depot would have housed mortars, grenades and automatic firearms. He said he had not heard of any of these weapons being in circulation. "Not that I know of -- but you never know," said Capt Ur. Luckily anti-tank rocket launchers were no longer kept at the base, he said. Moem Barracks is usually the home to four rifle companies, each of which contains three platoons of about 30 soldiers each, as well as a crack reconnaissance unit. Even to have just one rifle per soldier stored in the armoury it would have to have held around 400 weapons. Police have so far caught only two people attempting to sell the stolen weapons. The Minister's spokesman said each of these was fined around K400 -- a massive amount to the average Papua New Guinean -- suggesting the possible involvement of organised crime rings. "You couldn't afford that sort of money -- so somebody must have paid his fine," the spokesman said. He said Wewak residents were "living in fear" of the rebels, some of whom were wearing full combat gear with camouflage face-paint and commandeering stolen military vehicles through the town. The rebels have given Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta until this morning to respond to their demands, which includes the scrapping of a major retrenchment scheme for the military. Analysts say it would be disastrous for Sir Mekere to drop the reforms, upon which hinge major international loans to PNG. In their petition to Sir Mekere the rebels have demanded not only that the Government resign, but for an end to all foreign involvement in PNG.

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EX-SOLDIERS are among the 11 men yesterday named as the instigators of the Moem Barracks mutiny. And PNGDF Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Ur said yesterday the force would push ahead with the retrenchment exercise, the chief reason behind the mutiny. He appealed to the mutinous soldiers, numbering 80, to lay down arms and for law-abiding soldiers to account for them, return the weapons and ammunition to the armoury and allow for proper military authority to be restored. While defence headquarters named the 11 leaders, their named cannot be published yet for legal reasons. Three of them are ex-soldiers — one allegedly involved in the University of PNG unrest in March 2001 and the third in the burning of the Moem barracks headquarters building two years ago. Two others are from units in Port Moresby while the other five are other rank soldiers from Moem barracks. The defence-force command has maintained since the weekend, outsiders were involved in the weekend’s events which saw the burning down of two administration buildings. “I am certain that eventually, we will catch up with those outside influences and deal with them according to the law,” Colonel Ur said. “I must warn the soldiers (at large) to be careful ... because some of the mutinous leaders are civilians disguised in military uniforms and they have notorious plans for the weapons and ammunition taken from the ammunition depot. “I stress that those who instigated the mutiny last weekend are discharged soldiers who are basically considered as civilians by the military and the mutiny leaders were former soldiers implicated and discharged from the force under disciplinary grounds while some for the burning of the battalion headquarters in year 2000. “The soldiers must be aware that they have been ill-informed about the retrenchment exercise package by those undisciplined soldiers who instigated the act of mutiny,” Col Ur said. He renewed the call for “good soldiers not to be misled”. “Some people think that through this action ... the retrenchment program would be stalled or delayed. I want to remind those affected that this program will continue as scheduled. Every data is compiled, we are only waiting for people to be paid out,” he said. “If servicemen lacked the proper information on the retrenchment, me and my staff will specifically deal with it to address those shortfall of information required to prepare them well for transition to civil life.” He said the 2002 Defence budget catered for 2000 men. Meanwhile a five-man crisis management team led by Chief of Operations Colonel Ben Norie flew to Wewak yesterday and met by 2RPIR Battalion acting commander Major Willie Janguan and a handful of soldiers.

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MUTINOUS soldiers at the Defence Force’s Moem Barracks have given Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta seven days to respond to their amended petition. The protesting soldiers are demanding a halt to the forces downsizing and current retrenchment of soldiers to be abandonedimmediately. They also demand the release of captains Bola Renagi and Belden Namah and Lieutenant Linus Osoba — now serving jail terms for their active part in the Sandline mercernary affair of 1997. The protesting soldiers say the three soldiers were unjustly imprisoned. They demand the Prime Minister makes prompt intervention to grant the trio full pardon, release them on licence and restore them to their substantive ranks in the force with full entitlements forthwith. These are the two amendments made to their petition which the Government is still to receive. They warned: “We emphasise that the weapons taken from the armoury would not be returned until all of our petition points are fully addressed to our satisfaction; and pardon and amnesty is granted to each one of us unconditionally.’’ The petition has been addressed to the Prime Minister with copies to the Defence Minister, Secretary and the PNGDF Commander. Attached to their petition are four questions, which relate to reducing the size of and the retrenchment exercise. Late yesterday PNGDF Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Ur said the situation remained unchanged in Wewak with the armed soldiers still in control of Moem Barracks. Col. Ur said Defence Force headquarters had still not received a copy of the amended petition. The soldiers’ other demands include:

  • Quick processing of Defence Force soldiers’ retrenchment payouts;

  • All forms of political involvement in the PNG Defence Force stop immediately;

  • Increase the Defence Force budget;

  • Shun all foreign involvement on how to manage PNG’s affairs and especially those of the Defence Force;

  • Departmental heads and politicians 100 per cent pay rise to be reversed;

  • Review all taxation laws including the Value Added Tax;

  • The Government and Defence Force Commander resign; and

  • Controversial political issues like privatisation and land mobilisation be scrapped.

They said that the issues were raised in previous forums by non government organisations and recently in a peaceful University of Papua New Guinea student’s march. The soldiers said Murray Barracks and Waigani had not shown much interest and concern to attend to their earlier signals on issues raised in their petition instead of waiting to respond to crisis situations.

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PNGDF FAMILIES 'SAFE' IN MOEM (Post-Courier 11/3/02)

SOLDIERS and their families were safe on the strife-wracked Moem barracks near Wewak last night, a defence spokesman said. The troops who seized weapons and ammunition from the armoury were in control of the barracks and the gate, but other soldiers and their families were safe and moving freely around their houses, the spokesman said. However, the hard core of mutineers had more than 20 weapons, mostly M16s and SLRs (self-loading rifles) and a quantity of ammunition, the officer said. They had stopped harassing others at the military camp and were reportedly content to control movements in and out of the camp until they received an answer to their petition. The rebellious group read out a petition to Opposition Leader Sir Michael Somare at 5pm on Saturday. Sir Michael, a former prime minister, represents the East Sepik Province where the Moem barracks is. He was called for by the striking soldiers to hear their complaints. Defence headquarters in Port Moresby is waiting to get a copy of the petition before responding. The defence spokesman said the petition had yet to be typed out and handed over by the soldiers. He confirmed that the base commander, Lieutenant-Colonel John Rakatani, was in hiding and not on the base. He reportedly left on advice at the beginning of the uprising. His second-in-command, a major, was appointed by him to take acting command.

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MOEM MUTINY (Post-Courier 11/3/02)

TWO buildings have been burnt down and the armoury broken into by soldiers at the PNG Defence Force’s Moem Barracks in Wewak, East Sepik. Defence Force Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Ur said yesterday the situation remained unchanged from Saturday with armed soldiers, understood to be unhappy over the retrenchment exercise, in control of the barracks. But he said families were allowed movement around the barracks yesterday. Col. Ur could not disclose the whereabouts of the barrack’s commander. Senior military officers are travelling to Moem today to deal with the problem. The Government yesterday described the situation where armed soldiers have taken control of the barracks as an internal military issue and would be dealt with through the military process. Fire allegedly started by a group of soldiers destroyed two buildings housing the intelligence, general office, stores and administration block in one and the communications centre in the other. The first building — a two-storey structure, set ablaze at around 2am on Saturday morning, was two years ago the same building destroyed in a fire. Soldiers and officers who tried to fight the fire on Saturday were stopped by the disgruntled soldiers who also fired shots into the air. The second fire, which started around 4am, destroyed the communication centre which was next to the commander’s office. Again, officers and soldiers who tried to stop the fire were prevented from doing so by angry soldiers who fired shots into the air. The soldiers regrouped at about 8am on Saturday, some dressed in military fatigues, some in civilian clothing, others masked and armed with high-powered army weapons. Sources on the ground said the group broke into the armoury at about 10am on Saturday, taking weapons and ammunition. They also took control of two military vehicles, one of them the barracks commander’s car.

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A NIGHT OF TERROR IN WEWAK (Post-Courier 11/3/02)

What I thought was a simple trip out of Port Moresby on Friday afternoon turned into hours of fear and terror for a group of journalist who travelled to Wewak in East Sepik Province. Lisa Pagelio (NBC), Sinclaire Solomon (The National), William Natera (Word Publishing), Ruben Kalaug (PNG FM), Jerry Ginua (EMTV), Thomas Kilala from the Defence Force media unit and myself had travelled to Wewak on Friday afternoon at the invitation of the Defence Force Air Wing to farewell one of its first pilots, Ignatius Lai who was leaving the force. We arrived on the Casa at around 3.30pm and were taken directly to Moem barracks. The male reporters were told they would spend the night at the officers mess while Lisa and I were to spend the night with a young couple, Raphael and Elizabeth. At around 2am, my sleep was interrupted by loud voices and the sound of vehicles. Elizabeth opened my door and said there was something happening at the barracks and her husband told me to stay in bed. They also told me that some shots had been fired into the air earlier. A few minutes later there was loud pounding on the front door and someone was calling my name, asking that we open the door. Raphael opened the door to find my colleagues Thomas and William who rushed into the house with their knapsacks. Thomas told us that some members of the force had started a fire at the administration block and that he and some officers had managed to put the fire out but were warned to leave the fire alone by some members of the force who fired shots into the air. Raphael told Elizabeth and I that if there was any trouble we were to lock ourselves in the middle room armed with knives. Around 3am, we decided to try to get some sleep as things had calmed down but at around 4am, rapid gunfire cut through the night. Raphael, who had returned to check on us, shouted at us to leave the house and follow him out. In the dark, I ran back into the bedroom, picked up my glasses, grabbed the company camera and my recorder and managed to find my thongs before rushing out of the house. Trembling, Elizabeth, William and I were guided out of the house by Thomas and Raphael and taken along a bush track to a slope in a banana patch and a cherry tree where a mother and her family had sought refuge. We were told to keep quiet and remain there. Raphael returned to check on us a few times and said the officers were not armed and they were in a difficult situation. At around 7am, we were told the tension had eased and we could come out of the banana patch and sit under another officer’s residence. We decided to drive towards Moem Barracks to check what the situation was really like but decided to check the Casa first. When we approached the airport we saw that the Casa engines were on and our other colleague William was there. The pilots and aircraft crew told us to drive onto the tarmac because they were leaving immediately. We quickly strapped ourselves into our seats as another family piled into the aircraft. A quick head count was made and the Casa took off, using only half the airstrip. We were informed that we would go to Madang and while there the flight crew called the Defence Force headquarters, informing them about the Casa’s whereabouts. The two pilots told us they walked along the beach from Moem to Boram jail before they were offered a lift to the airport. We left Madang after lunch on Saturday and arrived in Port Moresby around 3pm.

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SOLDIERS MUTINY AT MOEM BARRACKS by Sinclaire Solomon (The National 11/3/02)

MOEM Barracks near Wewak -- home to some of the country's finest fighting men -- was last night still in the hands of mutinous soldiers more than 48 hours after they took over the armoury and burnt down two administrative blocks. This is the first time in the country's history that rebellious soldiers have taken over an army barracks. PNG Defence Force headquarters at Murray Barracks would not immediately comment on the situation because it has yet to study a 13-point petition which the soldiers sent to Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta through Opposition Leader and East Sepik MP, Sir Michael Somare, airing their grievances. Murray Barracks however, appointed Major Willie Janguan as acting commander of Moem after the commander, John Rakatani, was chased off the barracks. Major Janguan was the second in charge. It has also appointed Captain Charlie Andrew as the commander's envoy to establish dialogue with the soldiers. The rebelling soldiers, through spokesman George Wena, said they represent the entire Moem non-officers' interests in relation to the Defence Force retrenchment exercise, which they want scrapped. He said armed soldiers will man the main gate to the barracks to prevent officers returning for the next seven days (from Saturday) until the Government gives a satisfactory response to their grievances. By last night damage done to the barracks included: Burning down of the military intelligence and administration block destroying all personal records of soldiers at Moem; Burning down of the communications centre, cutting outside communications; Breaking-into and emptying of the armoury of firearms and ammunition; and Breaking-into the transport pool and commandeering of motor vehicles, including the commander's vehicle. All commissioned officers and their families either fled or were chased off the barracks by armed soldiers starting Saturday morning. Those also caught in the crossfire were a group of Port Moresby-based journalists who had travelled to Wewak on Friday on the Defence Force CASA aircraft for the farewell function of PNGDF's first DC3 captain, Colonel Ignatius Lai. The CASA aircraft had to be flown out of Wewak early on Saturday following reports that the rebel soldiers planned to sabotage it and hold the crew hostage. Moem Barracks, about 10km east of Wewak town centre, is home to the Second Royal Pacific Islands Regiment, which consists of four rifle companies, including the crack reconnaissance unit and one support company. The recon unit is preparing to go to New Caledonia for joint military exercises following a similar one by their counterpart unit at Taurama Barracks. This is not the first time property has been damaged at Moem. On Sept 16, 2000, Independence Day, soldiers went on a food riot, damaging their mess and the officers' mess where East Sepik Governor Arthur Somare was entertaining overseas guests who included senior Indonesian military personnel. Mr Somare and his guests were not hurt but Mr Somare's official vehicle was damaged. The soldiers later burnt down the regimental headquarters which houses 2PIR's historical records. This building is adjacent to the admin block which was torched on Saturday morning. Wewak town however, went about business as usual on Saturday, with the Boram Hospital 40th anniversary celebrations. Yesterday, however, there were some tense moments at the Boram Airport when armed soldiers were spotted in two different vehicles outside the terminal building inquiring about the arrival of the Air Niugini flight and the CASA aircraft which they believed was bringing in the PNGDF crisis management team to talk to the soldiers. Armed soldiers set up a roadblock at the junction of the Moem Barracks and Brandi roads but this was pulled down later at the insistence of community leaders who feared Air Niugini might cancel its flights into Wewak.

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