Prime Minister James Marape promised to send security reinforcements and punish those responsible after three days of tribal violence in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) highlands that has left dozens dead including two pregnant women.
Local officials said at least 24 people had been killed in Hela province in the west of the country.
The country’s highland tribes have fought each other for centuries, but an influx of automatic weapons has escalated the cycle of violence and made the battles more deadly.
“Twenty-four people are confirmed dead, killed in three days, but could be more today,” Hela provincial administrator William Bando told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. “We are still waiting for today’s brief from our officials on the ground.”
Bando has called for at least 100 police to be deployed to reinforce some 40 local officers.
Recently-appointed Marape, who is from the province, said the government would step up security deployments to the area.
“Today is one of the saddest days of my life,” he said in a statement. “Many children and mothers innocently murdered in Munima and Karida villages of my electorate.”
‘Time is up’
In one attack in Karida, fighters are said to have hacked to death six women, eight children, as well as two pregnant women, in a 30-minute rampage.
Local health worker Pills Kolo said it was hard to recognise some of the body parts and said remains had been bundled together using mosquito nets as makeshift body bags.
“Gun-toting criminals, your time is up,” Marape said. “Learn from what I will do to criminals who killed innocent people, I am not afraid to use (the) strongest measures in law on you.”
He noted that the death penalty was part of the justice system in PNG, but did not elaborate on the planned security deployments.
It is not clear what prompted the latest attacks, but many tribal clashes are old rivalries ignited by allegations of rape, theft, or disputes over territorial boundaries.
In nearby Enga province, a similar surge in violence led to the establishment of a makeshift military garrison and the deployment of a company of around 100 government soldiers.