Your web browser is no longer supported. To improve your experience update it here

Tribal violence in Papua New Guinea at least 49, police say

At least 49 people have been killed in a gun battle between warring tribes in Papua New Guinea, police say.
A tribe, their allies and mercenaries were on their way to attack a neighbouring tribe when they were ambushed on Sunday in Enga province in the South Pacific nation's remote highlands, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Acting Superintendent George Kakas said.
Police Commissioner David Manning later described the clash as a "gun battle between warring tribes".
The massacre was a major escalation in ongoing tribal violence in the region. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
An unconfirmed number of villagers were among those killed. Police reinforcements were sent to the scene of the battle, Manning said.
"At this point, it's not clear exactly how far we have moved into the conflict there," Manning told the ABC.
"But the intent is to regain control or have a significant presence in that conflict area and then work ... our way through our procedures in dealing with this type of incident."
Kakas initially said 53 combatants had died but security forces later revised the death toll down to 26. The number increased to 49 after more bodies were recovered.
Bodies were collected from the battlefield, roads and the riverside, then loaded onto police trucks and taken to the hospital.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said he had "great concern" about the violence in Enga and urged the warring tribes to lay down their weapons.
James Marape (Getty)
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said he had "great concern" about the violence. - FILE (Getty)
"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.
John Luther, a leader of Akom village whose warriors were among those ambushed, talked down the prospect of an escalation of the violence in retaliation for the deaths.
"We've lost a lot of lives. I don't feel we should be able be to retaliate. We're already weak in numbers," Luther told the AP.
"I don't think I would allow my people to go fighting again," Luther added.
The villagers were ambushed from a school building while on a mission to avenge the death of a woman killed in a neighbouring allied village, he said.
Vladimir Putin and four of his now-dead critics
These people dared to challenge Putin. All of them are dead
Luther also accused the military of aiding and arming his enemies in the ambush. He had been told the death toll was 44.
But Papua New Guinea government lawyer Oliver Nobetau said he expects more lives will be lost in retaliatory violence.
"There's a big concern that this will continue on. Revenge killings tend to be a normal thing that happens," said Nobetau, who is on temporary assignment to the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
He said although tribal violence is common, it has never happened on this scale and that police have limited resources to cope.
"Tribal violence is something that is prevalent and the government with its limited resources will try to deploy the police wherever they can to try to curb the security issues," he said.
Papua New Guinea is a diverse nation of 10 million mostly subsistence farmers speaking 800 languages. Internal security has become an increasing challenge for its government as China, the United States and Australia seek closer security ties to the country in a strategically important part of the South Pacific.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government was ready to assist Australia's nearest neighbour, which is the largest single recipient of Australian foreign aid.
"That is very disturbing the news that has come out of Papua New Guinea," Albanese said before the death toll was revised down.
Tribal violence in the Enga region has intensified since elections in 2022 that maintained Prime Minister James Marape's administration. Elections and accompanying allegations of cheating and process anomalies have always triggered violence throughout the country.
Enga Governor Peter Ipatas said there were warnings that tribal fighting was about to erupt.
"From a provincial perspective, we knew this fight was going to be on and we (alerted) the security forces last week to make sure they took appropriate action to ensure this didn't occur," Ipatas said.
Scores of people have died in tribal fighting in the Enga region in the past year.
Port Moresby's Post-Courier newspaper has reported that high-powered firearms used in the recent fighting made it risky for police to enter the battlefields.
Police said they were assisted by the military in protecting the general public and government property.

Send your stories to

Auto news: Mob in San Francisco burn $150k robo-taxi to the ground.