OCEANIA/PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Escalation is feared after tribal conflict: The only way to avoid it is on-site dialogue

Monday, 26 February 2024 dialogue   tribalism   missionaries  

Port Moresby (Agenzia Fides) - After the serious massacre in which a total of 64 people fell victim in the last few days in the province of Enga, near the town of Wabag, 600 kilometers northwest of the capital Port Moresby, there is now fear of an escalation of the tribal conflict in Papua New Guinea.
The incident occurred on February 18 in the remote village of Akom and is, according to authorities, the largest massacre in recent months. The incident is part of clashes between rival tribes (the Sikin and Kaekin tribes) in the gold-rich Enga province, an area where land disputes are becoming increasingly heated and where clashes are becoming increasingly deadly due to the significantly increased availability of firearms. The country's Prime Minister James Marape is considering declaring a state of emergency to end ongoing fighting and hostilities. Marape said he intended to introduce a law to "strengthen the jurisdiction of security forces to intervene in acts of domestic terrorism." Meanwhile, security forces have already launched "targeted operations" in Enga to restore order, while police officers have the right to "use the necessary level of force to prevent further violence and reprisals." The UN human rights office, meanwhile, called on the government to "take immediate action to address the causes of the violence and work towards mutual recognition among highland communities." The office is calling for "the surrender of all weapons, especially firearms" to counter the escalation of violence. Although tribal fighting has historically been common in remote areas of Papua New Guinea, violence in Enga has increased over the past year. According to observers, a kind of "guerrilla war" has broken out, largely due to the illegal influx of weapons, and there is a risk of contagion in neighboring groups and areas, also due to the presence of mercenaries hired (and paid) from outside to support the parties to the conflict. The government has tried to contain the violence through repression and mediation, but so far has had little success. The army had deployed around 100 soldiers in the region, but the effect of this measure was limited. Italian missionary Fr. Giorgio Licini, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, explains: "Clashes between ancestral indigenous groups - some of which had their first contact with the outside world only 70 years ago - can have various reasons, but above all, they depend on control of the territory, which is very strong in their traditional culture. These tensions are then maintained by members of this group who have emigrated to the city, settled there, and can send weapons or pay mercenaries. These are remote inland, rural or forest areas with high illiteracy rates, characterized by cultural and social backwardness and where, for example, witchcraft practices and even the hunting of women considered witches are in force", the missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) continued. "In such situations - argues the missionary - little can be done from outside; the only effective path is that of dialogue on site, betweenvillage leaders, involving respected personalities, religious leaders, including Christians, and civil leaders: that is the only way we try to create a network of dialogue between indigenous groups and prevent violence". "In the past, the situation between these groups was more stable because there was less mobility and therefore less potential for conflict,” affirms Father Licini. “Today, with mobility and globalization, everything is more chaotic, we are in a phase of transition between the ancient culture and a new identity, which however is not yet firmly and clearly defined”. The PIME missionary illustrates the three levels of life and social organization in Papua New Guinea: "The first is the tribal society, an ancestral reality; the second is the presence of churches of various denominations, which have an extensive network of schools and social institutions; the third is that of the modern state, which is particularly noticeable in the cities". The nation is in a period of transition where these three levels meet, and in this process of difficult cultural, social and economic upheaval, violence occurs. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 26/2/2024)