Papua New Guinea: Women and children killed in tribal massacre

Highlands Highway running through rain forest at Tari, Papua New Guinea.Image copyright Education Images
Image caption Tribal clashes have been ongoing in the area for many years

Children and pregnant women are among those murdered in a tribal massacre in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands area.

At least 24 people are confirmed to have died in a brutal flare up of violence between rival tribes over several days in Hela province. Some reports put the death toll higher.

PM James Marape called the news “one of the saddest days of my life”, promising to track down the perpetrators.

It is one of the worst outbreaks of tribal violence in PNG for years.

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The motive for the killings is not yet known. However clashes have been going on for more than 20 years in the region involving multiple clans.

How did the killings unfold?

Details are still emerging from the remote central area, but Hela provincial administrator William Bando told AFP news agency that 24 people were dead and there could be more.

Local news agency EMTV reported at least two incidents in small villages in the Tari-Pori district.

On Sunday, seven people – four men and three women – were killed in Munima village. Then on Monday, 16 women and children were hacked to death in the village of Karida, EMTV said. Two of the women were pregnant.

Pills Pimua Kolo from the Hela province department of health posted pictures on Facebook of what he said was the massacre in Karida village.

The pictures show a row of bodies wrapped in cloth and tied to long poles. He said some of them had been chopped into pieces and their body parts were hard to recognise.

How did the authorities respond?

Prime Minister Marape, who is from the area, said the killings were led by gunmen from the Hagui, Okiru and Liwi tribes and said he would seek out punishment for the people responsible.

“Gun-toting criminals, your time is up,” Mr Marape said.

“How can a province of 400,000 people function with policing law and order with under 60 policemen, and occasional operational military and police that does no more than band aid maintenance,” he added.

William Bando said he had now called for at least 100 more police to reinforce the existing 40 local officers.

How common is tribal violence in PNG?

Papua New Guinea’s highland provinces are very remote. Communities are still based around tribal traditions and many small villages have never had road connections.

In 2018, an earthquake devastated some of the remote regions.

Tribal clashes are not unusual with rivalries often prompted by rape or theft, or disputes over tribal boundaries.

But while clans have fought each other for decades or centuries, the severity of the violence has shocked Papua New Guinea.

Over the past years, the influx of automatic weapons has made clashes more deadly and escalated the cycle of violence.

Papua New Guinea is among the poorest countries of Asia with about 40% of the population living on less than $1 a day, according to the UN.