At least 53 men massacred in Papua New Guinea tribal violence

Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Tribal violence in Papua New Guinea has intensified since the 2022 election that brought back James Marape for another term as prime minister. Allegations of cheating in elections have often triggered violence.
(Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

At least 53 men were massacred in a major escalation of tribal violence in Papua New Guinea, Australian media reported Monday.

A tribe, their allies and mercenaries were on their way to attack a neighboring tribe when they were ambushed Sunday in Enga province in the South Pacific nation’s remote highlands, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Acting Superintendent George Kakas told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

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

He said authorities were still counting “those who were shot, injured and ran off into the bushes,” adding that they expect to find more bodies. “We presume the numbers will go up to 60 or 65,” he said.

Kakas said it could be the highest death toll from such violence in the highlands, where there are few roads and most of the inhabitants are subsistence farmers.


Police in the capital of Port Moresby did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for details.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of 10 million people with 800 languages in a strategically important part of the South Pacific. Internal security has become an increasing challenge for its government as China, the United States and Australia seek closer security ties.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government was ready to assist Papua New Guinea, the country’s nearest neighbor and the largest single recipient of Australian foreign aid.

“That is very disturbing the news that has come out of Papua New Guinea,” Albanese said. “We remain available to provide whatever support we can in a practical way, of course, to help our friends in PNG.”

Albanese said Australia is providing “considerable support” for Papua New Guinea and helping to train the country’s police officers.

Tribal violence in the Enga region has intensified since elections in 2022 brought back James Marape for another term as prime minister. Allegations of cheating and election process anomalies have often triggered violence in the country.

Enga Gov. Peter Ipatas said there were warnings that tribal fighting was about to erupt.

“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,” Ipatas told Australian media.

Ipatas described the violence as a “very, very sad occasion for us in the province, and it’s a bad thing for the country.”

Scores have died in tribal fighting in Enga in the last year.

Port Moresby’s Post-Courier newspaper has reported that high-powered firearms used in recent fighting made it risky for police to enter the battlefields. Police said they were assisted by the military in protecting the general public and government property.

Oliver Nobetau, a lawyer for the Papua New Guinea government, expected more lives to be lost in retaliation for the massacre.

“There’s a big concern that this will continue on. Revenge killings tend to be a normal thing that happens,” said Nobetau. “Tribal violence is something that happens commonly, but never to this scale.”

Police have limited resources to deal with such violence on a “massive scale,” Nobetau said.

“Tribal violence is something that is prevalent, and the government, with its limited resources, will try to deploy the police wherever they can to try to curb the security issues,” he said.