Deadly tribal clashes destabilize Papua New Guinea


Tribal violence has escalated last week in Papua New Guinea. Screenshot from YouTube video of ABC News In-depth. Fair use.

Clashes between several tribes in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea led to at least 50 deaths and displaced numerous highland communities. The government said that the February 18 massacre was the country’s worst tribal violence on record.

The police said they retrieved 50 bodies on February 19 in Enga province, but the death toll could be higher based on the reports and testimonies of local leaders.

The long-running feud between the Sikin and Kaikin tribes and the Ambulin tribe triggered the violence stemming from unresolved land disputes. Police said the warring clans hired mercenaries from nearby villages.

Authorities noted that the fighters used military-grade weapons, which indicated the culpability of arms suppliers and the existence of a black market for illegal firearms and explosives.

Police Commissioner David Manning urged community leaders to cooperate:

These ethnic fights stem from wicked people who in the end cause the deaths of their own people when they stir up a fight.

While I recognise it is hard because there are threats and intimidation involved, but community leaders have to step up, work with police to identify the ringleaders.

But former opposition leader Belden Namah accused security forces of being indecisive in protecting citizens:

We are sending the same old people, the soldiers and the police and they are fraternising with the tribal fighters, with the lot of people on the ground and not effecting any arrests.

In fact, they are standing around with the warriors carrying their guns, soldiers and police carrying their guns, where are we heading?

In an editorial, Post-Courier wrote about the collapse of the traditional leadership provided by tribal leaders:

Sadly, the traditional or community leadership's grip on authority has crumbled in recent years, because governments, past and present have, failed to empower those in this role with resources, skills, knolwedge, and legislations for them to effectively perform in partnerhsip with competent state institutions in the rapidly changing world PNG lives in today.

Penniless, illiterate and isolated from the formal contemporary governance system, the community leaders fight an uphill battle everyday to administrate justice and deal with crime in their rural communities.

In another editorial, Post-Courier asked the government to deliver justice for the victims:

We suggest that the right thing to do now, in the face of the terrorism presented by tribal fighters in Wapenamanda, is to deal with the situation head on. Send the full force of the law, police, army, and warders, declare a full-on state of emergency in Engam and seek out and bring those tribal lawless warriors to justice.

Go in head on and deal with the troublemakers. Let the gunmen know there are laws in this country that protect the citizens of our nation.

Dorothy Tekwie, founder of Papua New Guinea Women in Politics, told the media about the impact of the clashes on highland families:

Any woman would be emotional…and I am also calling on women throughout Papua New Guinea to stand up. Enough is enough of violence of all forms.

We are asking for accountability from our members of Parliament. It doesn't matter whether they are in government or in opposition. This is a national crisis.

Pacific countries and institutions like the Pacific Islands Forum have expressed concern about the latest incident of tribal violence in Papua New Guinea. Richard Howard, the UN Resident Coordinator in the country, pointed out that “the increasing use of modern weapons exacerbates the tribal fightings and their impact on human lives.”

It has been a tumultuous two months for Papua New Guinea. Riot and looting hit the capital Port Moresby in January, which killed at least 20 people. An aviation fuel crisis is plaguing the transport sector. The recent tribal clashes have severely undermined the stability of the government and peace and order in the country.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.