At least 53 men killed in PNG tribal fighting

Papua New Guinea Highlands

Papua New Guinea police say at least 53 people have died in a massacre in the country’s Highlands.

A ghastly sight as a picture of bodies piled high on top each other on a police vehicle was shared on online platforms Sunday.

The bodies were alleged to belong to men who fought in a fight between two tribes in Wapenamanda.

The grassland of Wapenamanda was their battlefield as they fought with guns, knives, and other homemade weapons.

Police have remained silent on the pictures trending on social media platforms, but many are calling for more support.

The dead bodies are alleged to be of the Sikin and Kaekin tribesmen and were retrieved by policemen and supported by the PNGDF.

It is alleged that a total of 53 men were killed at Sat Akom/7 mile during heavy gun fire Sunday.

Local police believe it could be the largest massacre in PNG’s highlands in recent history.

Police believe the men were shot dead in an ambush in Enga Province, in a major escalation of tribal fighting in the region.

Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Acting Superintendent George Kakas said officers who responded were “devastated”.

“This is by far the largest (killing) I’ve seen in Enga, maybe in all of Highlands as well, in Papua New Guinea,” he said.

“We’re all devastated, we’re all mentally stressed out. It’s really hard to comprehend.”

Facing escalating tribal fighting, Enga Province was put into lockdown for several months last year.

Police had been trying to stop the supply of firearms and ammunition into the region, which was supercharging the deadly violence.

It is understood this tribal fight involves the same tribes that killed more than 60 people last year.

Acting Superintendent Kakas said one of the tribes, along with their allies and mercenaries, were on their way to attack a neighbouring tribe when they were ambushed.

“These tribesmen have been killed all over the countryside, all over the bush,” he said.

“Police and defence forces have had to go in to do their best to quell the situation at their own risk.

2We started collecting bodies, scattered all over the battlefield, the roads, the riverside … and they were loaded onto police trucks and taken to the hospital.”

He said authorities were still counting “those who were shot, injured and ran off into the bushes” and that more people could have died in the bushes.

“We presume the numbers will go up to 60 or 65,” he said.

Police have urged for calm in the province.

Enga Governor Peter Ipatas said there was a warning that tribal fighting was about to erupt.

“[This is] a very, very sad occasion for us in the province and it’s a bad thing for the country,” he said.

“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.”

Tribal violence has been rife in the Enga region since the last election in 2022, with another flashpoint occurring last September.

On that occasion, the tribe from another village was blamed for a man’s death and then ambushed his funeral, killing five people with bush knives and axes.

In the months that followed, a tit-for-tat retribution spiralled out of control. As more tribes became involved, many villages were raided and burnt down.

Ipatas said the province had been trying to manage the fighting, but with 17 tribes involved in the most recent escalation, it was ultimately up to the security forces to keep the peace.

“It’s a very big fight that’s not normally in Enga province. This is probably the biggest tribal fight we’ve ever had,” he said.

“The police and security forces must take ownership and be on the ground, assess the situation and take appropriate action.

“Because we know who is fighting, it’s not like this is criminal activity that pops up. This is a tribal fight, we know which people are involved.” The situation is said to be still tense.