15 Nov 2013

PNG police confirm grenade used in tribal violence that killed 14

5:14 pm on 15 November 2013

Papua New Guinea police have confirmed a hand grenade was used during a tribal fight in Southern Highlands early on Monday morning in which 14 people died.

On Wednesday the provincial police commander, chief inspector Sibron Papoto, visited the Kagua valley area where the violence occurred, and says the 14 dead include 4 women, one of whom was six months pregnant, and 2 children.

He says around 600 dwelling houses and 12 permanent buildings were burnt down, while the iron was removed from the roof of the only high school in the area.

Chief inspector Papoto says a 50-strong police team will shortly be installed to conduct investigations and maintain order.

Don Wiseman asked him if the grenade caused the fires.

SIBRON PAOTO: We were only shown the empty hand grenade shell, which was brought in when we went there by the victims. That was used, as well as three of the empty bullet shells were shown to us by the victims, which were collected from the scene of the incident.

DON WISEMAN: The people who were trapped in the houses, they couldn't leave the houses because they were being shot at.

SP: It was believed that one of tribes got in there by vehicle then they had to walk on foot to the exact location of the incident. At around 1am on Monday they went in and locked the doors from outside and then they set fire to those dwelling houses. So when the people wanted to come out of the houses they were shot at and their bodies thrown back into the fire. That was the information we got from the victims we interviewed.

DW: So you say there's no fighting, but it's still tense.

SP: No, no. The victims have been displaced. The warring tribes have moved further outside. So the area the battlefield, or where the incident happened, it's quiet but tense. We were given assurance by the majority, the bulk of the people in that valley, Sugu Valley in Kagua, that even the police deployed at that location, they will have the support of the community. Police will have the support. We also appealed to them to look after the policemen and help them as much as they can with any vital information.

DW: Now, this is just the latest chapter, isn't it, in ongoing tribal fighting in this area.

SP: It actually happened after the death of one of the former national parliamentarians. There were rumours, speculations around who really caused this death. Suspicious, superstitious beliefs in sanguma, sorcery and this kind of thing. So it built on and built on up to this stage. So actually this fight eventuated from the death of one of the local national parliamentarians, David Basua.

DW: How many people have died to date?

SP: Those reports have not been reported to police. There was media speculation as well as the reports coming in from a third party. But right now the confirmed report we have is 14 only. There may be other related deaths, but I'm not in a position to give you the details of that. I just moved in as the new PPC [Provincial Police Commander] so I am not really aware of the figure, exact figure that I can give, but the recent fight - confirmed deaths 14.