PNG ‘politicians, pastors’ supply weapons to fuel deadly tribal fights, says Engan leader

Wabag, the provincial capital of Enga
Wabag, the provincial capital of Enga . . . thrust into a chaotic and a standstill situation due to a political by-election for Lagaip Open,. Image: Paul Kanda/FB/File

By Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific journalist

National politicians and pastors are fuelling the tribal fighting in Papua New Guinea by supplying guns and ammunition, says Enga’s Provincial Administrator Sandis Tsaka.

Tsaka’s brother was killed a fortnight ago when a tribe on a war raid passed through his clan.

“[My brother] was at home with his wife and kids and these people were trying to go to another village, and because he had crossed paths with them they just opened fire,” he said.

Enga has seen consistent tribal violence since the 2022 national elections in the Kompiam-Ambum district. In May last year — as well as deaths due to tribal conflict — homes, churches and business were burnt to the ground.

In February, dozens were killed in a gun battle.

Subsequently, PNG’s lawmakers discussed the issue of gun violence in Parliament with both sides of the House agreeing that the issue is serious.

“National politicians are involved; businessmen are involved; educated people, lawyers, accountants, pastors, well-to-do people, people that should be ambassadors for peace and change,” Tsaka said.

Military style weapons
Military style weapons are being used in the fighting.

Tsaka said an M16 or AR-15 rifle retails for a minimum of K$30,000 (US$7710) while a round costs about K$100 (US$25).

“The ordinary person cannot afford that,” he said.

“These conflicts and wars are financed by well-to-do people with the resources.

“We need to look at changing law and policy to go after those that finance and profit from this conflict, instead of just trying to arrest or hold responsible the small persons in the village with a rifle that is causing death and destruction.

“Until and unless we go after these big wigs, this unfortunate situation that we have in the province will continue to be what it is.”

Tsaka said addressing wrongs, in ways such as tribal fighting, was “ingrained in our DNA”.

Motivation for peace
After Tsaka’s brother died, he asked his clan not to retaliate and told his village to let the rule of law take its course instead.

He said the cultural expectation for retaliation was there but his clan respected him as a leader.

He hopes others in authority will use his brother’s death as motivation for peace.

“If the other leaders did the same to their villages in the communities, we wouldn’t have this violence; we wouldn’t have all these killings and destruction.

“We need to realise that law and order and peace is a necessary prerequisite to development.

“If we don’t have peace, we can’t have school kids going to school; you can’t have hospitals; you can’t have roads; you can’t have free movement of people and goods and services.”

Tsaka said education was needed to change perceptions around tribal fighting.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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