Deadly Bush

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At least 26 people died in a gunfight on Sunday that involved tribal groups in a rural area of Papua New Guinea, where clashes between tribes have become increasingly violent, the New York Times reported.

The violence occurred in the highlands’ Enga Province, leaving dozens of bodies lying in a field, along roads and a river. It was the latest outbreak of inter-tribal violence, which killed 150 last year.

The police said Sunday’s incident involved at least 17 tribes, in a country that is home to over 300. Papua New Guinea’s population of 10 million is particularly diverse, speaking more than 800 languages, and mostly rural, with around 85 percent living in the countryside.

“We really struggle with trying to live with each other, understand each other, given all the different diversities,” said researcher Elizabeth Koppel at a panel discussion in October. Papuan tribes have been divided over issues including water, resource management, politics and land.

The tensions have escalated to violent clashes in the last decades, growing deadlier with the use of more sophisticated tools. Tribespeople have switched from traditional weapons to firearms imported from abroad. In the aftermath of Sunday’s clash, observers said some tribes had hired mercenaries.

The situation has become difficult to manage for the Papuan government. Researcher Michael Main said the police were “outgunned.” In 2023, a three-month lockdown was imposed on Enga amid violent confrontations, and the province’s governor asked Australia to help.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday said his country was ready to provide more support, after signing a security agreement with Papua New Guinea last year.

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