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Mutiny leader 'pleads for pardon'

A day after a retired colonel seized Papua New Guinea's military headquarters in an attempt to force out the prime minister, the ex-soldier was in hiding in a nearby barracks, demanding a pardon for himself and his supporters.

A small group of soldiers led by retired Colonel Yuara Sasa put the military's top commander under house arrest on Thursday in a bloodless, pre-dawn takeover, but later that day prime minister Peter O'Neill said Brigadier General Francis Agwi had been released and remained in charge of most of the military.

Mr O'Neill said Col Sasa had been "dealt with", but did not say how.

The mutiny was part of a power struggle in which Mr O'Neill and former prime minister Michael Somare claim to be the rightful leader of the South Pacific island nation.

Police said Col Sasa was at Taurama Barracks in Port Moresby, near the military headquarters, with about 20 supporters. Police spokesman Dominic Kakas said Col Sasa had asked for a pardon.

On Thursday, Col Sasa had told reporters in Port Moresby he was giving Mr O'Neill seven days to comply with a Supreme Court order reinstating Somare as prime minister.

The government responded by calling on Col Sasa's group to surrender and saying the mutiny had little support.

Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah told reporters that about 30 soldiers were involved in the mutiny and that 15 of them were arrested. Mr Namah said Col Sasa could be charged with treason, which carries the death sentence.

Australian prime minister Julia Gillard condemned the mutiny, saying in a written statement that the military has no place in Papua New Guinea's politics. Australia is the main provider of foreign aid to its former colony.

"It is critical therefore that this situation be resolved peacefully as soon as possible, with the PNG Defence Force chain of command restored," she added.

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