BUSA JEREMIAH WENOGO
PORT MORESBY – Sixteen children and women slashed to death by warlords and their tribesmen were laid to rest in Hela yesterday.
And towards the eastern edge of Southern Highlands in the Kagua-Erave area, a massacre said to be much larger continues unabated, perhaps 50-100 victims have lost their lives as warring tribes ransack villages and orchestrate guerilla warfare.
With limited reliable reporting, the number of deaths is likely to be much higher. Roads have become dangerous to travel and as a result schools, aid posts and other basic government services have come to a standstill.
With the use of high powered guns and hired hit men, tribal fights are much more deadly than those fought in traditional times.
In the Highlands where the payback system and bigman mentality are still dominant, battles among the elites for power quickly spiral into all-out tribal and ethnic war.
It gets complicated when political differences and tribal conflicts intertwine. Lurking behind the images of men with guns and piles of bodies is a battle among the elites for power, prestige and wealth.
Money and drugs are used to procure high powered guns for the foot soldiers who follow orders from the top.
It’s continuing warfare, there’s no sparing the innocent and there’s no contemplation of peace. As aptly described by one observer, the situation in Hela and other parts of the Highlands is not just chaos, it’s organised chaos.
The killing of women and children is an emerging trend in tribal warfare and may reflect a change in the rules of engagement.
It seems warring tribes are after children, especially male children and their mothers, in the hope of exterminating future threats. However, we all know that will only lead to a vicious cycle of revenge, death and continuing violence in the future.
Churches, community leaders, ward councillors, village court magistrates, tribal leaders and police all have an important role to play in ensuring that peace prevails.
However, when these interventions are not present or too weak, tribal conflicts quickly get out of control and become difficult to stop.
In the Highlands, often isolated and beyond government control, tribal conflicts occur frequently. Sending in the police or army will not address the root causes. Nor will just going after the foot soldiers.
The organising elite must be held accountable. They are the ones bankrolling these battles and killings. They are responsible and they must act to stop the slaughter.