Dozens killed as tribal violence erupts in Papua New Guinea’s restive highlands

A grim scene unfolded in Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands as authorities discovered at least 49 bodies following a violent clash between tribes, as reported by police to CNN on Monday. The confrontation, characterized by its brutality, involved armed members of the Ambulin and Sikin tribes wielding “military style” automatic weapons, according to George Kakas, the Enga Province Police Commander.

The bloodshed erupted on Sunday morning amidst a longstanding land dispute in the Middle Lai area of Enga Province, situated over 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea, renowned for its natural resources, grapples with economic challenges and staggering crime rates, standing as one of the world’s most crime-ridden nations. Its diverse population, comprising numerous tribes scattered across rugged terrain, often sees tribal conflicts arise from disputes over land and wealth.

The rift between the Ambulin and Sikin tribes traces back to 2021, rooted in a contentious land claim, which has since escalated into a relentless cycle of violence, Kakas explained to CNN. Members of the Ambulin tribe, anticipating an attack by the Sikin, laid an ambush, setting the stage for the tragic confrontation.

Efforts to address the aftermath have been arduous for law enforcement, with Kakas detailing the recovery process. Police had initially transported 26 bodies on Sunday, returning the following day to retrieve more victims. Amidst the grim task of scouring the area and riverbanks for additional casualties, the strain on police personnel is palpable, as Kakas lamented the toll the ongoing conflict has taken on his force, describing them as “really stressed out.”

The distressing news of the violence in Papua New Guinea has reverberated beyond its borders, drawing attention from neighboring countries like Australia. Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of Australia, expressed deep concern over the situation, affirming his country’s commitment to providing support. Australia has already undertaken significant efforts to bolster security in Papua New Guinea, including a comprehensive security agreement signed last year, which involves Australian police personnel serving on the ground.

As Papua New Guinea grapples with the aftermath of this harrowing incident, the international community remains poised to extend assistance and support to mitigate further escalation and facilitate peace-building efforts in the region.