Papua New Guinea police begin investigation into big deadly fight

Stephen Wright
2022.11.07
Wellington
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Papua New Guinea police begin investigation into big deadly fight Papua New Guinea police involved with an investigation into a deadly fight on Kiriwina island on Oct. 24 are seen at a police station on the island, in this handout photo released by water police, Nov. 8, 2022.
Handout photo/Papua New Guinea police

Papua New Guinea police say they’ve begun a criminal investigation into a three-hour fight on Kiriwina island last month that killed at least two dozen people.

The police probe is in preparation for a coroner's inquiry that is needed because of the large numbers of deaths, provincial police commander Peter Barkie said in a statement on Tuesday.

“People from the affected villages in Kiriwina are cooperating well. Police have discussed with the villagers the need to have all the suspects surrender and they have agreed to do so,” the police statement said.

A local government official had initially put the death toll from the Oct. 24 fighting at more than 30, but police said on Tuesday that 24 had died and several were seriously wounded. 

“Normalcy has been restored, all shops are open,” police said. “People are carrying on with their usual daily chores.” 

The fight between inland and coastal villagers armed with knives, stones and crowbars had, according to police, escalated from a dispute over a soccer match.

A police rapid response team didn’t reach Kiriwina in the Trobriand archipelago until a day after the violence. 

The police in Milne Bay province – which includes the archipelago – only have dinghies, which makes it difficult to respond quickly to emergency situations on the islands, police said in an Oct. 27 statement. Police got to Kiriwina after the National Maritime Safety Authority lent them a boat.

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Papua New Guinea police are shown being deployed to investigate an Oct. 24 fight on Kiriwina island, in this handout photo released by water police, Nov. 8, 2022. [Handout photo/Papua New Guinea police]

The violence followed dozens of deaths across Papua New Guinea during the South Pacific country’s national election in July this year.

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 the country’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. Police numbers per 100,000 people in Papua New Guinea are among the lowest for any country.

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.

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