At least 30 dead in Papua New Guinea clashes, official says

Stephen Wright
2022.10.25
Wellington
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At least 30 dead in Papua New Guinea clashes, official says Kiriwina islanders shelter from the sun inside the Pulayasi Airport terminal in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, Aug. 13, 2007.
Torsten Blackwood/AFP

More than 30 people have died in fighting between rival clans armed with crowbars, knives and rocks on the Papua New Guinean island of Kiriwina, a government official said in a radio interview.

The violence in the Trobriand archipelago follows dozens of deaths across Papua New Guinea during the South Pacific country’s national election in July, but it’s unclear if rival political allegiances were behind the clashes this week on Kiriwina.

“So far, more than 30 dead total,” Nelson Tauyuwada, a provincial government official, said in an interview with Radio New Zealand on Wednesday.

“They were using short crowbars, stones, wooden metal bush knives… anything that they could injure the opponents.”

Tauyuwada, who is in the Milne Bay provincial capital Alotau on Papua New Guinea’s mainland, said he had received information about the clashes from the local government in the area where the fighting happened.

“I think at the moment the fighting has stopped. The two communities have gone into their respective grounds to sort themselves out first, maybe bury their dead,” he said.

Tauyuwada said there had been continuing tensions between people from Bwetalu and Kavataria, two of the administrative divisions in Kiriwina.

Youths from Bwetalu had destroyed food gardens in Kavataria and there was an earlier clash in which one person died and another was hospitalized, which provoked a desire for revenge, he said.

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Post-Courier, one of Papua New Guinea’s main newspapers, reported Tuesday that provincial police hoped to reach Kiriwina on Wednesday. It said the tensions on Kiriwina emerged following the general election when rival tribal groups clashed at a football match.

Kiriwina island’s population was about 37,000 in the 2011 census.

Mountainous Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse nations, with more than 800 indigenous languages. A creole known as Tok Pisin has emerged as a common language for Papua New Guinea’s nine million people.

But stability for the country, which gained its independence from Australia in 1975, remains elusive as it grapples with tribal violence and challenges such as corruption and lack of roads and primary healthcare in many regions.

In July, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Papua New Guinea, Dirk Wagener, condemned the reported deaths of dozens of people in the country’s highlands during a chaotic two-week voting period for national elections.

The U.N. said allegations of ballot tampering and ballot box theft, as well as poor organization, planning, and underlying clan rivalries, fueled instability during the election.

The International Organization for Migration estimated more than 15,000 people had been uprooted and displaced by the election violence.

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