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CrimePapua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea tribal clashes leave dozens dead

February 19, 2024

Police say bodies have been found along a stretch of road in Papua New Guinea's remote highlands, marking an escalation in long-running violence between local warring tribes.

A man holds an axe in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea in 2019
A growing population has put a strain on resources and deepened tribal rivalriesImage: Betsy Joles/Getty Images

At least 26 people have been killed in a fresh outbreak of tribal violence in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea, local police cited by Australian media said Monday.

According to authorities, they were killed in an ambush in Enga Province in the Pacific nation's remote highlands in the early hours of Sunday.

"We believe there are still some bodies... out there in the bush," Assistant Commissioner of Police Samson Kua said.

Police initially reported that more than 50 men had been killed, before revising the death toll down to 26, the Australian Broadcasting Coperation (ABC) said.

How police and politicians reacted to the killings in Papua New Guinea

"This is by far the largest (killing) I've seen in Enga, maybe in all of Highlands as well, in Papua New Guinea," Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Acting Superintendent George Kakas told the ABC.

Graphic videos and photos have emerged of the bodies of the victims loaded onto a police truck.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government was ready to assist Papua New Guinea, describing it as "very disturbing news." 

"We remain available to provide whatever support we can in a practical way, of course, to help our friends in PNG," he said.

Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape (pictured here at the UN in a file photo) urged the warring tribes to lay down their weaponsImage: Julia Nikhinson/AP Photo/picture alliance

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said he had "great concern" about the violence in Enga. 

"If there are community disputes, there are ways to deal with the community disputes," Marape said. "Lay down your arms. A lot of disputes will be resolved. One killing or two killings doesn't solve the problem. It contributes towards more problems," he added.


Tribal violence in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is home to hundreds of tribes, many of which still live in inhospitable and remote terrain.

An increasing population has put a strain on land and resources and deepened tribal rivalries.

Police believe many of the victims of Sunday's incident might have been mercenaries, men who roam the countryside offering to help tribes settle scores with their rivals.

An influx of mercenaries and automatic weapons has made clashes more deadly and escalated the cycle of violence.

The security services remain outnumbered and outgunned despite the deployment of troops by the military.

dvv/lo (AFP, AP, Reuters)