By Rod McGuirk | Related Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — At the very least 26 combatants and an unconfirmed variety of bystanders have been killed in a gunbattle between warring tribes in Papua New Guinea, police mentioned Monday.

A tribe, their allies and mercenaries have been on their solution to assault a neighboring tribe once they have been ambushed Sunday in Enga province within the South Pacific nation’s distant highlands, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Appearing Superintendent George Kakas mentioned.

Police Commissioner David Manning later described the conflict as a “gunbattle between warring tribes.” An unconfirmed variety of villagers additionally have been killed. Police reinforcements have been despatched to the scene of the battle, Manning mentioned.

“At this level, it’s not clear precisely how far we’ve got moved into the battle there,” Manning instructed Australian Broadcasting Corp. “However the intent is to regain management or have a big presence in that battle space after which work … our method by our procedures in coping with one of these incident.”

Kakas initially mentioned 53 combatants had died. However safety forces later revised the demise toll right down to 26.

Our bodies have been collected from the battlefield, roads and the riverside, then loaded onto police vans and brought to the hospital. Authorities have been nonetheless counting “those that have been shot, injured and ran off into the bushes,” Kakas mentioned.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape mentioned he had “nice concern” concerning the violence in Enga and urged the warring tribes to put down their weapons.

“If there are group disputes, there are methods to cope with the group disputes,” Marape mentioned.

“Lay down your arms. Quite a lot of disputes might be resolved. One killing or two killings doesn’t resolve the issue. It contributes in the direction of extra issues,” he added.

John Luther, a pacesetter of Akom village whose warriors have been amongst these ambushed, talked down the prospect of an escalation of the violence in retaliation for the deaths.

“We’ve misplaced a number of lives. I don’t really feel we must always find a way be to retaliate. We’re already weak in numbers,” Luther instructed the AP.

“I don’t suppose I’d enable my individuals to go preventing once more,” Luther added.

The villagers have been ambushed from a faculty constructing whereas on a mission to avenge the demise of a girl killed in a neighboring allied village, he mentioned.

Luther additionally accused the navy of aiding and arming his enemies within the ambush. He had been instructed the demise toll was 44.

However Papua New Guinea authorities lawyer Oliver Nobetau mentioned he expects extra lives might be misplaced in retaliatory violence.

“There’s an enormous concern that this may proceed on. Revenge killings are usually a standard factor that occurs,” mentioned Nobetau, who’s on non permanent task to the Sydney-based worldwide coverage suppose tank Lowy Institute.

He mentioned though tribal violence is frequent, it has by no means occurred on this scale and that police have restricted assets to manage.

“Tribal violence is one thing that’s prevalent and the federal government with its restricted assets will attempt to deploy the police wherever they’ll to attempt to curb the safety points,” he mentioned.

Papua New Guinea is a various nation of 10 million principally subsistence farmers talking 800 languages. Inside safety has grow to be an growing problem for its authorities as China, america and Australia search nearer safety ties to the nation in a strategically necessary a part of the South Pacific.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese mentioned his authorities was prepared to help Papua New Guinea, which is Australia’s nearest neighbor and the most important single recipient of Australian international help.

“That may be very disturbing the information that has come out of Papua New Guinea,” Albanese mentioned earlier than the demise toll was revised down.

Tribal violence within the Enga area has intensified since elections in 2022 that maintained Prime Minister James Marape’s administration. Elections and accompanying allegations of dishonest and course of anomalies have all the time triggered violence all through the nation.

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