Pregnant women and children were among more than two dozen people slaughtered in recent tribal violence in PNG.
The slaughter of more than two dozen people in Papua New Guinea, including pregnant women and children, has been called “the worst pay back killing” in the country's history and marks a disturbing “new trend”, according to PNG officials.
Police Minister Bryan Kramer made the declaration, following his visit to Hela Province in the Southern Highlands where the latest cycle of a decades-long and complex tribal war between people from Pajaka and Yaganda villages ended in massacres last week.
Mr Kramer said in a social media post the recent death toll included the "horrific killing of 23 women and nine children in the worst pay back killing in our country's history".
Local authorities have declared the area a “fighting zone” and extra police and military personnel have been deployed. There have been no reports of further deaths at this stage.
Prime minister Jame Marape called the brutal killings in his electorate of Tari-Pori as “one of the saddest days of his life” and threatened the perpetrators with potential death penalties.
Mr Kramer said Karida village, where 16 people died in the worst attack, belonged to another tribal group and was drawn into the dispute through a marriage to one warring side. He said the community had tried to avoid involvement by paying the other side “10 pigs and 4000 kina” (A$1,600) in compensation.
But Karida was still attacked - with women, including two pregnant, and children dragged from their houses and “chopped” to pieces as the village was burnt down.
The police minister said the use of high-powered weapons in earlier attacks and the targeting of women and children marked a grim turn in traditional tribal dispute settlement.
“Killing of innocent women and children in tribal conflicts are unheard of, so last week's merciless killings has changed everything where the immediate concern is that it will become the new trend,” Mr Kramer said.
“Tribal fights are not new in PNG and in recent years they have become more prevalent in the highlands region, one may argue they have been going on since the beginning of time.
“However since that time the rules of engagement have always been that the elderly, women and children have been off limits.”
The recent attack on Karida came after six people were killed in Munima village the previous Saturday.
Now, hundreds of Karida villages are hiding in the surrounding hills fearing further attack.
One grieving father said he will not seek revenge for the deaths of his mother, wife and a child and will co-operate with the government to deal with the killers, but called for protection.
“This place has never experienced such violence, we usually live in peace with our family,” Alili Urr told The National newspaper.
“The Munima will still come and kill us. I’m calling on the provincial government to get all of us to a neutral area.
“We, the remaining 500 villagers, need to be relocated because we will not stay here.”
Karida villager Andrew Halu described how how he awoke to find his house on fire a week ago.
“My wife and four children were sleeping in the family house. When I outside I saw the family house burning,” he said.
“My wife was chopped and she is now admitted at the intensive care unit at the Tari hospital, but all four of my children were slaughtered.
“I was chopped in the arm while I was escaping.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross has blamed the surge in the use of high-powered weapons in part on tribes being able to afford them with revenues they receive from resource projects in the Highlands.
Hela province administrator William Bando has called for resource companies ExxonMobil and Oil Search operating in the region to build infrastructure to support the police and military.
“If they can build the multi-million kina National Sports Stadium … in Port Moresby, there is no reason why they can’t build these infrastructures in the Hela province that host their operations,” Mr Bando told The National.
“We want to review the security arrangement with ExxonMobil.”