SCOTT WAIDE | Asia Pacific Report
KARIDA, HELA - On Wednesday, some of the bodies of 18 Papua New Guinean women and children were buried by the roadside in Karida Number One village.
They were the latest innocent victims of a 20-year tribal war driven by local warlords in the Tagali local level government area of Hela Province.
Karida Number One was not directly involved in the fighting that initially left seven people dead in neighbouring Munima village.
But they were accused of harbouring an in-law involved in the attack.
And the women and children paid the price.
For the older generation of Hela, the killing of women and children has broken the traditional protocols of tribal fighting.
“This, I have never seen in my life,” chief Hokoko Minape said. “This is new.”
Chief Hokoko is a household name in the Tagali LLG. He had been councillor for as long as anyone can remember.
Through his grief, expressing himself poetically in Tok Pisin, he said, “The women and the children are like my mothers. I died with them. They are close to my heart. I died of grief. I am already dead.”
Muks Maia, the local church pastor, lives on a nearby hill in Karida village. He ran to the site when he saw the fire from the burning houses.
He was too late to do anything.
“When I got there, I saw the women and children. They had been cut up like animals. There were no men. The total number of those killed was 18.”
Beside the smouldering remains of a hut, one of the men said the women who died were anchors in the community.
Their lives firmly rooted in the village. They cared for the land and the animals, while the men travelled in between Tari, Port Moresby and Mt Hagen.
It has been difficult to mourn for them, with the people unable to settle into their normal lives.
The hut where the worst of the attacks happened still stands. A whole family, including two pregnant women and their unborn children also died in the attack.
On Wednesday, the Hela provincial government declared the Tagali area a “fighting zone”.
Police and the Defence Force numbers are stretched with only 40 police personnel and one PNGDF platoon.
The only thing giving the people some sense of security are the army and police patrols that have been going into the village since the raid.
Like chief Homoka Minape, police and provincial authorities say the killing of women and children is unprecedented.
Three months into office, the provincial police commander, Chief Inspector Teddy Augwi, is facing his first major crisis.
He says dialogue remains key in finding a solution and bringing the warring parties together.
Scott Waide is the EMTV News Lae bureau chief. He visited Karida village in the wake of this week’s atrocity and he frequently writes for the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report