HomeConflict and PeaceAt least 64 killed in Papua New Guinea ambush

At least 64 killed in Papua New Guinea ambush

At least 64 killed in Papua New Guinea ambush

Sydney, AUSTRALIA (EFE/ABC) – At least 64 people are believed to have been killed in a massacre in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.

The men were shot dead early Sunday morning during an ambush, police said, marking an escalation of tribal fighting in Enga province.

“This is by far the largest (killing) I’ve seen in Enga, maybe in all of Highlands as well, in Papua New Guinea,” Royal PNG Constabulary Acting Superintendent George Kakas told Australian public broadcaster ABC.

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Local news outlet Papua New Guinea Post-Courier reported that 56 bodies were recovered on Sunday, and at least another eight on Monday, with more expected to be found.

It said high-powered firearms including AK47s and M16s, as well as homemade guns, were used during the massacre.

Kakas said that the incident occurred when a tribe, their allies and mercenaries, were on their way to attack a neighboring tribe when they were ambushed.

George Kakas (facing) says officers who responded to the Enga massacre were “devastated”.(ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

“We started collecting bodies, scattered all over the battlefield, the roads, the riverside … and they were loaded onto police trucks and taken to the hospital,” he told ABC.

Local media published images of bodies lined up on the back of a truck and scattered over a road.

Tribal violence in Enga, in which 17 tribes are believed to be involved, has worsened since the last election in 2022.

Another series of violent incidents occurred in September last year after a tribe was accused of killing a man, forcing authorities to restrict the movement of villagers.

Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich nation with around 40 percent of its 12 million population living in poverty, is isolated by connectivity and infrastructure problems, especially in remote areas where security and basic healthcare and education is scarce.

The country – whose government signed a security agreement with Canberra in December that includes financial aid to modernize its police forces – also has a long history of political intrigue, corruption and internal conflicts.

Up to seventeen tribes are engaged in the conflict

Enga Governor Peter Ipatas expressed concerns about an imminent outbreak of tribal conflict.

“This is a very, very sad occasion for us in the province, and it’s a negative development for the country,” he remarked. “From a provincial standpoint, we were aware of the brewing conflict and notified the security forces last week to take necessary measures to prevent it.”

Tribal violence has been a persistent issue in the Enga region since the 2022 election, with tensions escalating periodically. Last September, an altercation ensued when a tribe from another village was accused of causing the death of a man. Subsequently, they ambushed his funeral, resulting in the deaths of five individuals by bush knives and axes.

In the subsequent months, a cycle of tit-for-tat reprisals escalated uncontrollably.

With an increasing number of tribes participating, numerous villages fell victim to raids and arson.

Mr. Ipatas acknowledged the province’s efforts to mitigate the conflict. However, with the involvement of 17 tribes in the latest escalation, he emphasized that maintaining peace ultimately relied on the security forces.

“It’s a very big fight that’s not normally in Enga province. This is probably the biggest tribal fight we’ve ever had,” he said. 

“The police and security forces must take ownership and be on the ground, assess the situation and take appropriate action.
“Because we know who is fighting, it’s not like this is criminal activity that pops up. This is a tribal fight, we know which people are involved.”
Acting Superintendent Kakas said the security under his command have tried their best to stop this fighting for months and have “exhausted all our efforts”.
“They attend to these fights, these atrocities day in, day out, they have to retrieve the bodies …,” he said.
“We have to put up with that on a day in, day out basis.”
Commissioner Manning said the proliferation of small weapons in the area has been a concern for police for some time.
“This [massacre] is only made possible through the use of many, many small arms and it is a concern,” he told the ABC.

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