27 Aug 2002

Vanuatu police chief and 26 others in court on mutiny charges

8:41 pm on 27 August 2002

Vanuatu's acting police commissioner, Holi Simon and the commander of the Vanuatu Mobile Force, Api Jack Marikembo, were this morning arrested by heavily armed members of the VMF.

They have been charged with mutiny and inciting mutiny.

They were to appear in court this afternoon along with another 25 police and senior members of the VMF, but the court sitting has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning after the public prosecutor failed to turn up today.

Today's arrests come three weeks after senior police, acting on a complaint by Mr Simon, arrested 15 public officials, over the appointment of a new police commissioner.

They were charged with seditious conspiracy but those charges were struck out because the arresting officers had acted without warrants from the public prosecutor.

The appointment of the new commissioner was also quashed and Mr Simon made the acting commissioner.

Our correspondent reports that sources within the Government say today's arrests were approved by the Deputy Prime Minister Serge Vohor, while Prime Minister Edward Natapei was in Suva at the Forum leaders meeting.

Meanwhile, Eric Pakoa, the police commander southern region, who's responsible for security during the Melanesian Arts Festival currently taking place in Port Vila, says the order was badly timed.

Port Vila is full of tourists with a cruise ship in the harbour and Mr Pakoa says the last thing the country wants to show them is armed soldiers walking around town.

He says the operation has brought the country to its knees before the world.