Papua New Guinea tribal fighting

Tribal violence in Papua New Guinea's highlands claims 49 lives, exposing deep-seated issues of land disputes, firearms proliferation, and governance challenges.

Papua New Guinea tribal fighting
Dozens killed in tribal fighting in Papua New Guinea

Dozens Killed in Tribal Warfare in Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby, February 19, 2024 - At least 49 people were killed in a brutal tribal battle in Papua New Guinea's remote highlands region on Sunday, police said. The deadly clash was the latest flare-up in a long-running feud between the Ambulin and Sikin tribes over a land dispute. 

According to Enga Province Police Commander George Kakas, the groups were armed with military-style automatic weapons when the bloodshed erupted early Sunday morning. "We have experienced killing almost every day," Kakas told CNN. "My police have been working flat out trying to retrieve bodies and stop the fighting."

The Middle Lai area of Enga Province, located over 600 km northwest of Port Moresby, has been plagued by hostilities between the two tribes since 2021. Despite repeated attempts to intervene, police have struggled to contain the violence. 

"The fighting has really taken its toll on us," Kakas said, adding that officers were still searching the rugged highlands terrain for more victims. By Monday, at least 49 bodies had been recovered.

Papua New Guinea, an island nation of about 10 million people, has long grappled with high rates of crime and tribal conflicts tied to land ownership and resources. Hundreds of tribes inhabit the remote parts of the country, where revenge attacks and retaliation have created an endless cycle of brutality.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese deplored the latest killings, pledging to provide support and training to help Papua New Guinea address the complex tensions fueling the unrest. Last year, the two countries signed a security agreement aimed at strengthening stability.

Still, experts worry the sheer remoteness of these highland communities and proliferation of arms may continue to enable the warfare despite outside assistance. "We remain available to provide whatever support we can," Albanese said Monday, "in a practical way, of course, to help our friends in PNG."