Tribal clashes in Papua New Guinea’s highlands have left at least 19 people dead, including seven who were killed by a grenade, authorities said on Monday.
Officials said the deaths occurred around Kainantu, in Eastern Highlands province, amid a months-long dispute over land ownership between rival tribes.
Michael Welly, the provincial police commander, told local media that two clans were in Kainantu to sign a peace agreement on Thursday when a fight between two women spiralled into a ‘full-blown out battle’ that killed 12 people.
Seven others died when a hand grenade was detonated the next day, before homes were burned to the ground in retaliation, the Post Courier reported.
Welly said the warring tribes had temporarily ceased fighting after the deployment of specialist police forces from other provinces.
‘We are hoping they lay down their arms or surrender them but that will be a long time coming,’ he told AFP.
David Manning, Papua New Guinea’s police commissioner, said all those involved would be ‘dealt with’ but admitted more needed to be done to address the issue of illegal guns.
‘The first thing we have done is to enforce the rule of law so we can make sure Kainantu is free from criminal actions and from these warring factions,’ he told AFP.
Tribal conflicts are a frequent occurrence in Papua New Guinea’s highlands, but an influx of automatic weapons has made clashes more deadly and escalated the cycle of violence.
In 2019, at least 24 people including two pregnant women and their unborn children were killed in Hela province when highland clans clashed apparently over control of local gold deposits in the region’s mineral-rich soil.
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