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At least 49 dead in Papua New Guinea tribal fights

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At least 49 people are dead in Papua New Guinea due to tribal fights. It’s been described as one of the biggest massacres in recent years.
Papua New Guinea tribal fights

A massacre in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Enga province has left at least 49 people dead due to tribal fights. The death toll is being updated regularly.

A PNG police spokesperson told Radio New Zealand it’s an escalation of ongoing tribal tensions, and that overseas “black market” firearms have been found at the site.

The massacre comes after at least 60 people died in a series of inter-tribal fights in the same region last year.

Here’s the latest.

Background

PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975.

The country has a history of election-related violence, including its most recent election in 2022 when Prime Minister James Marape was re-elected. It was marked by concerns about vote-rigging.

In addition, the police are under-resourced and have struggled to contain the violence. The United Nations recommends one police officer for every 450 people. According to the Human Rights Watch, PNG has a ratio of one officer for every 1,800 people.

Highlands Region

Enga is located in the mountainous and fertile Highlands region. Tribal fights in Papua New Guinea are historic, and some traditional ceremonies were partly intended to reduce violence.

Further, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says tribal fighting in the region is “not new” and can involve “generational land disputes”, or relate to elections.

However, Enga Governor Peter Ipatas told local news that the current “trend of tribal warfare goes against all cultural norms” and is being driven by “illegal firearms.”

Tribal Fights in Papua New Guinea

The PNG Government responded to election-related violence by placing the province under a three-month lockdown in July 2023, including a curfew from 9 pm to 6 am.

Additionally, in November 2023, a one-month curfew was introduced elsewhere after fighting between tribes in the Wapenamanda and Wabag districts.

Recent violence has also stemmed from an ongoing dispute over a man’s death. The ABC reported 17 tribes are involved in the current conflict.

Fighting intensified on Sunday, when at least 50 Sikin and Kaekin tribesmen were killed. Police told local media the fight was between the Ambulin and Sikin tribes and their allies.

It’s been described as one of the biggest massacres in the highlands in recent years.

Opposition

Opposition leader Douglas Tomuriesa has called for an increased police presence in the province.

Further, Tomuriesa said, in a statement: “We call on the government to immediately establish where the guns and bullets are coming from.”

Tomuriesa also said a Parliamentary committee had recently heard allegations PNG authorities were supplying guns and ammunition to tribes.

Women and children

According to Human Rights Watch, there is a high rate of gender-based violence and harassment against women and girls in PNG.

Tomuriesa said women and children were often “collateral damage” to tribal fights.

Radio New Zealand reported children older than 10 had been involved in fighting, and pregnant women had “fled for their lives”.

Australia

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told ABC radio the massacre in PNG “is very disturbing news”.

“We remain available to provide whatever support we can,” Albanese said.

Australia provides significant funding to its former colony, and the Australian Federal Police runs a partnership program with PNG police.

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