A CATHOLIC bishop in Papua New Guinea has branded rival tribesmen “monstrous cowards” and called for a law and order crackdown, after tribal clashes that claimed at least 24 lives – including the hacking to death of women and children.
“What kind of monstrous cowards can sneak up on defenceless women and children and slaughter them in their beds?” the Bishop of Mendi, Donald Lippert (pictured) tweeted, after one of the worst outbreaks of tribal violence in his diocese in the remote southern highlands province of Hela.
“I call upon the PPC (police) and those responsible for public safety to find these cowards and subject them to the full weight of the law! This never again!”
The Governor of Hela Province, Philip Undialu, told Reuters news agency the killings were part of a conflict running for years.
“It was retaliation of a previous attack. Both attacks were made in an innocent community where people were not expecting it and all of us are in a state of shock,” Mr Undialu said.
A string of attacks and counter-attacks took place over several days.
In one incident PNG’s EMTV reported four men and three women – were killed in Munima village.
The following day, 16 women and children were hacked to death in the nearby village of Karida.
Two of the women were pregnant.
Graphic photos of the Karida killing were posted on social media showing a row of bodies wrapped in cloth and tied to long poles.
The isolated region is the home electorate of PNG’s newly-elected Prime Minister James Marape, who expressed his sadness at the murder of mothers and children and demanded police reinforcements for Hela Province.
““How can a province of 400,000 people function with policing law and order with under 60 policemen, and occasional operational military and police that does no more than band aid maintenance,” he tweeted.
Authorities say the region has for years struggled with violence, at times driven by disputes over the distribution of land and rich resources.
US company ExxonMobil operates a liquefied natural gas processing plant in the region where the killings took place, but suspended construction on a pipeline last year because of unrest.
“My electorate in Hela Province hosts LNG and power transmission line for Porgera gold mine, and since 2012 I have been requesting for more permanent police,” Prime Minister Marape tweeted.
Bishop Lippert, a Capuchin missionary has been an advocate for peace in PNG’s troubled highlands, railing against tribal conflict, violence against women.
In an interview in the Boston Pilot in January, Bishop Lippert described the people of his diocese as “some of the most committed and faithful Catholics that I have ever met”.
“However, just within the boundaries of my diocese, we are dealing with the atrocity of the torture and killing of women accused of sorcery as well as the increasing horror of tribal conflicts, which destroy families and communities,” he said.