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At least 64 killed in Papua New Guinea ‘largest’ tribal violence

This handout picture released by the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary on February 19, 2024 shows officials removing dead bodies near the town of Wabag, 600 kilometers northwest of the capital Port Moresby. (Via AFP)

At least Sixty-four people have been killed in an outbreak of violence between rival tribes in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea, police say, describing it as the “largest” in the Pacific nation’s recent history.

Local police said on Monday that the bodies were found along a stretch of road in Papua New Guinea’s northern highlands. 

The victims were believed to be tribal fighters who were ambushed by men from two rival tribes early on Sunday, George Kakas, Enga provincial police commander, told the Guardian.

“[The] situation is still tense but the highway is clear for the traveling public,” he said.

The incident occurred near Wabag, about 600 kilometers northwest of the capital Port Moresby.

“We believe there are still some bodies... out there in the bush,” Assistant Commissioner of Police Samson Kua said Monday, noting that gunfights were ongoing in nearby valleys.

The rugged and lawless area has for years been the scene of tit-for-tat mass killings between rival Sikin, Ambulin, Kaekin and other tribesmen.

Tribal fighting has been ongoing in Papua New Guinea’s highlands for centuries, but the latest massacre marks an escalation in violence in the region amid an influx of mercenaries and automatic weapons.

“The police and government cannot do much when leaders and educated elites supply arms, ammunitions and engage the services of gunmen from other parts of the province,” Enga Province’s acting police commander Patrick Peka said.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said the violence involved the same tribes that were responsible for clashes that killed 60 in Enga Province last year.

“This is by far the largest [killing] I’ve seen in Enga, maybe in all of Highlands as well, in Papua New Guinea,” said George Kakas, a senior officer in the country’s police force.

“We are all devastated, we’re all mentally stressed out,” Kakas told the ABC. “It’s really hard to comprehend.”

On Monday, opponents of Prime Minister James Marape’s government called for the deployment of more police and for the force’s commissioner to quit.

“We call on the government to immediately establish where the guns and bullets are coming from to fuel this senseless violence,” they added in a statement, according to the Post-Courier newspaper.

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