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Dozens killed as tribal violence erupts in Papua New Guinea’s restive highlands

By Angus Watson and Kathleen Magramo, CNN

(CNN) — At least 49 bodies were found at the site of a gun battle between tribes in Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands, police told CNN Monday, in a gruesome escalation of hostilities in the country.

Those killed were believed to be warring members of the Ambulin and Sikin tribes who were armed with “military style” automatic weapons, according to Enga Province Police Commander George Kakas.

The bloodshed broke out Sunday morning over a protracted land dispute in the Middle Lai area of Enga Province, located over 600 kilometers (more than 370 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea, a Pacific island nation home to a population of around 10 million, is rich in resources, but its economic growth has long trailed its neighbors and it has one of the highest crime rates in the world. It is home to hundreds of tribes across the archipelago’s remote terrain where tribal feuds often stem from land and wealth disputes.

Hostilities between the Ambulin and Sikin tribes began in 2021 over a piece of land and has since spiraled into a constant cycle of violence, Kakas said.

Members of the Amublin tribe had “got wind of the Sikin staging an attack early in the morning, so they were waiting for them – setting up an ambush,” Kakas told CNN.

Police had loaded 26 bodies onto trucks Sunday, before returning Monday to collect more, Kakas said, adding that his officers were still “scouring the area, the riverbanks for more.”

“We have experienced killing almost every day,” Kakas said. “My police have been working flat out trying to retrieve bodies and stop the fighting.”

“The fighting has really taken its toll on us,” Kakas said of his force. “We are all really stressed out.”

Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of neighboring Australia, called news of the fighting “very disturbing.”

“We are providing considerable support, particularly for training police officers and for security in Papua New Guinea,” Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on Monday.

“We remain available to provide whatever support we can, in a practical way, of course, to help our friends in PNG.”

Last year, Australia signed a comprehensive security deal with Papua New Guinea which will see Australian police serving on the ground.

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