Has the Sandline crisis returned to haunt PNG?
A feud between Forest Minister Belden Namah and mercenary Tim Spicer could be behind the recent jailbreak from Bomana prison’s top security unit.
Rumors are circulating around the PNG capital, Port Moresby, that the UK mercenary Tim Spicer has returned to PNG, 10 years after being expelled for leading plans to use South African mercenary forces to end the bloody cvil war on Bougainville.
Spicer brought a team of mercenaries into PNG in 1999 under a $36 million contract with the PNG government to quash the rebellion on Bougainville that started when the indigenous population of the island massed in opposition to the copper mine and closed it down.
Belden Namah, now PNGs Forest Minister, was then a Captain in the PNG Defence Force, which was kept in the dark over the governments plans to use mercenary soilders and revolted against the government when it found out what was happening.
Captain Namah, now MP for Vanimo-Green River, played a key part in Operation Rausin Kwik – the secret Defence Force operation that saw Spicer and his mercenaries rounded up and disarmed on the night of Marach 16, 1999. Ten days later Prime Minister Julius Chan was forced to resign.
But now, it is claimed, Spicer is back in PNG – and may be looking for revenge.
Spicers return, it is said, has spooked Forest Minister Belden Namah – who has continued to attract controversy despite being granted a pardon in 2000 for his part in the Sandline crisis.
In July last year the Samoa Observer reported that Namah had purchased three properties in the country for a total of US$1.5 million. Namah initially denied the story, but after the Samoan Central Bank announced it was launching an inquiry into possible money laundering offenses, Namah admitted making the purchases but claimed he was operating on behalf of unnamed business associatees.
Now, it is suggested, Belden Namah has financed the jail break from Bomana prison’s top security unit by some of PNGs most hardened and feared criminals, in an attempt to surround himself with a militia to stand up to Spicer.
It may sound crazy – but in PNG the crazy has a habit of coming true – as the original Sandline affair demonstrated only too clearly.