By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby
Thirty people are reported to have been killed and many seriously injured in the worst tribal warfare on Kiriwina Island in Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay Province yesterday.
The number of deaths will be the highest ever recorded during a tribal warfare on the island.
Douglas Tomuriesa, the member for Kiriwina-Goodenough and Deputy Opposition Leader, confirmed that 30 people were dead and many were seriously injured.
He was organising an airline charter to transport police personnel from Alotau to fly in to the Kiriwina, known as the “island of love”, in the Trobriand group, to bring the situation under control.
The situation is reportedly tense and may escalate further due to the number of deaths.
A villager said a worse case scenario by this morning might be other villagers taking sides and joining the warfare.
According to him the district has only two police personnel, despite a number of fully furnished houses for police personnel on the island.
He also alleged that firearms were discharged in the fight resulting in the high number of casualties.
Confirming the fight in a WhatsApp message, Provincial Police Commander Peter Barkie said: “Yes, received info daytime today about fighting on the island but police don’t have a boat, only dinghies, so we secured NMSA boat but logistics was slow and captain advised that, not safe to travel at night so police team will travel 5.00am at East Cape to Losuia.”
Commander Barkie also requested for reinforcements to be on standby and that a decision would be made when the police team arrives on the ground.
A concerned women leader, Joyce Grant, has appealed to Internal Security Minister Peter Tsiamalili for urgent government intervention, describing the number of deaths as the highest ever recorded in the history of Kiriwina society.
Her WhatsApp message said: “Although I am not mandated leader, however as concerned leader of my community, it is with the saddest of hearts that I write to your high office to appeal and ask for urgent government intervention.”
According to Grant, the fight began at approximately 11am yesterday, Monday, 24 October 2022.
Three main villages of Wards 19 and 20 of Kiriwina LLG approached the district office at Losuia to express their anger over the consistent destruction of their gardens by known perpetrators of neighbouring villages.
Gardens ‘a focal point’
“Gardens in the villages are the focal point of community existence. Without a garden, you are not able to sustain your family’s livelihood,” she said.
“However, no government officials were on hand to mediate the matter, including non-presence of law-and-order committees as the police station is manned by limited police personnel only.
“The church elders were also present to assist to contain the situation but the neighbouring villages were also ready for confrontation, therefore the situation was not able to be contained.”
The issue had started almost two months ago, immediately after the 2022 national general elections, and involved a soccer match. That fight resulted with one death and several people seriously injured.
“A police mobile unit was sent to maintain peace however to date, no clear resolution was reached to mitigate the issue then,” Grant said.
“Please Minister, our people need the governments urgent intervention of Police presence on the ground for the sake of our people’s lives. People are dying and the question is ‘who is responsible?’
Tomuriesa appealed to both warring factions to lay down their arms.
He said that when police reinforcements arrive, they should be “honest with themselves” and assist police by identifying the original instigators to face the law.
Miriam Zarriga is PNG Post-Courier chief-of-staff. Republished with permission.
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.