February 2024International News

At Least 64 Dead in Papua New Guinea Tribal Killings

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Sophia Alicea
Staff Writer

As of February 24, at least 64 people have been killed in mass tribal killings in the Northern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), says Reuters. This is the largest act of violence and killings in the Pacific nation’s recent history. Bodies are still being collected from the roadside of the highlands, and several unknown tribes have been massacred as well. 

PNG is known for its many indigenous tribes and varied traditions. Land disputes, rivalry for resources, and old grudges can occasionally lead to tribal warfare, which has existed in this region far before colonization. These disputes have the potential to turn violent and, occasionally, even deadly. However, the Enga Province leaders have kept order for decades, declaring all tribal warfare be contained to battlefields, leaving women, children, and “old persons and or persons living with disabilities” away from violence, according to an interview between the Engan community leader and The Guardian

As reported by The Associated Press, the “gold-rich” Enga province, home to the Port Moresby neighborhood, was the scene of the most recent tribal conflict. The province of Hela is another center for tribal conflict. According to Paul Barker, executive director of the Port Moresby-based policy think-tank Institute of National Affairs, both are located in resource-rich western regions of the nation where tribal strife has intensified recently. Conflicts arise over disputes and jealousies about who should get what natural resources, who should get mining royalties, and which landowners should get paid as noted by The Washington Post.  

On Sunday, February 15, ABC News initially reported that the incident was coined as a “gunbattle between warring tribes” by Police Commissioner David Manning. An unknown number of locals perished. The Pacific Islands News Association also reports that Manning says police forces were dispatched to the conflict scene. Acting Superintendent George Kakas of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary told the Australian Broadcasting Corps (ABC)  that the group’s sympathizers and mercenaries were ambushed on Sunday, February 15, in the remote mountains of Enga province, en route to attack a neighboring tribe.

Kakas stated that among the injured who had fled into the woods, police anticipated discovering other dead corpses. He told ABC, “These tribesmen have been killed all over the countryside, all over the bush.” After being gathered from the battlefield, highways, and riverbank, the bodies were placed on police vehicles and transported to the hospital. According to Kakas, the count of “those who were shot, injured, and ran off into the bushes” was still ongoing.

A report of tribal violence in PNG released by The International Committee of the Red Cross notes the majority of people living in the country are under 24 years old, with the Highlands having an even greater percentage of young people. A lack of job options and limited opportunities lead many young people to turn to violence. 

Furthermore, traditional cultural and tribal systems are fast evolving in PNG as it becomes more contemporary. Traditional elders and leaders are losing their stabilizing power as a result of increased external communications. Ultimately, the advent of contemporary armaments and combat strategies has resulted in increasingly horrific consequences. Clans in the Highlands fight each other with guns to protect their honor and property. Kinship and unity drive the clan’s decisions to escalate in response to a grievance. A disagreement following an argument or complicated election result can sometimes lead to conflict, as can generational land disputes or the simple breakdown of a relationship.

As noted by Reuters, modern warfare has shaped a new presence of fear and danger in indigenous communities. With growing international tensions, weaker governments, and advanced weaponry, the opportunity for massacre increases minute by minute. Pump-action shotguns, improvised weapons, and automatic firearms were among the real arsenal of weapons that Kua claimed the shooters had utilized. Reports sourced by Al Jazeera suggest that combat continues in a nearby isolated rural location. There have been multiple mass killings in recent years due to the ongoing tribal strife in the highlands of PNG

It is believed that the episode of violence has something to do with a battle between the tribes of Kaekin, Ambulin, and Sikin. The Associated Press notes that the growing political tensions between the U.S. and China emphasize the geopolitical importance of PNG. As China’s influence is growing in the region, the political instability of the island may stress international security issues to the United States and China as both nations have put more military attention in the region.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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