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Tribal fighters turn traditional rules of warfare into modern law

Tribal fightingSTAFF REPORTER | International Committee of the Red Cross

MT HAGEN – Some 34 councillors of the Nebilyer Local Level Government in the Western Highlands Province have agreed to respect and implement traditional rules of fighting to minimise consequences of warfare on people and property.

After numerous meetings tribal leaders generated 15 rules and these were formalised as aw at a recent signing ceremony.

“The rules are neither new nor borrowed but are the ones used in the past by our forefathers when engaging in any tribal fight,” said Gabriel Kiap, chairman of Western Highlands provincial law and order.

Kiap, once a tribal leader involved in fighting during his younger days, said these fights had greatly affected the community.

He said people engaged in conflict did not respect the rules and would not hesitate to destroy whatever came in their way. "Innocent lives are being lost” he said.

“But now the rules are clear. Civilians, especially the elderly, women, children and people with disability can't be targeted. Women and children must not be sexually abused and healthcare providers need to be respected at all times," he said.

In addition, Kiap said the rules prohibit destruction of public property such as schools, health facilities, roads, bridges, electricity poles and religious places and discourage targeting of neutral tribes and clans.

"Taking fights into public areas and engaging children under the age of 18 in tribal fights is not allowed," he said.

Kiap thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross for its support and cooperation with local leaders and provincial government authorities in the rebirth of the traditional rules.

The Red Cross head of office in Mt Hagen, Kakhaber Khasaia, said over the past few decades, tribal fighting has become significantly more destructive due to the use of semi-automatic weapons and breakdown in traditional methods of fighting.

“Despite varying traditions in the region, it is clear that the rules of fighting are no longer respected,” Khasaia said. “In olden times, male fighters would focus on fighting their counterparts on the battlefield.

“Women, children and people living with a disability were respected, homes were not burnt down as people slept inside and properties were never damaged.

"The aim of the project was to ensure those rules are brought back as local law. They must be respected to minimise the consequences of tribal fighting on people and property," Khasaia said.

He said that Nebilyer was the first local government in the Highlands to make traditional rules of fighting a local law. Similar activity will follow in other districts in the Western Highlands Province. The Red Cross is also working on different stages of the same project in the Southern Highlands, Hela and Enga.

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