Dozens Killed in Papua New Guinea After Clashes Between Tribes

“From the outside, it will look like they’re one country,” Elizabeth Kopel, a researcher at the Papua New Guinean National Research Institute, said during a panel discussion organized by the United States Institute of Peace about tribal violence in October. “But we really struggle with trying to live with each other, understand each other, given all the different diversities.”

Tensions have for several years been rising in the highlands, including Enga Province, where the recent deaths occurred. “This sort of situation has been just becoming increasingly more severe for many years now,” said Michael Main, a researcher at the Australian National University. He added: “It’s been going on for so long that you have an entire generation that’s growing up deeply, deeply traumatized. This level of violence has become normalized.”

Limited water and other resources, as well as disagreements over private land, have long set off tensions, said Mr. Aktoprak. “The main factors that lead to horrifying incidents such as this actually have been around for generations,” he said.

The death toll has been rising in recent years as tribespeople have moved from using traditional weapons to high-powered firearms including semiautomatic guns that are mostly brought in from overseas. “Previously, tribal fighting would involve spears and bows and arrows, leading to deaths but less casualties,” said Peter Murorera, also of the United Nations’ migration agency.

The Papua New Guinean defense force “acknowledges that it’s basically outgunned,” Dr. Main said.

The issues in the highlands date back many years and are highly localized and often very personal, often relating to longstanding grievances over land or politics. That is complicated further by a young population that is undereducated and underemployed, with young people denied an education because they are forced to flee the fighting, in turn resulting in mass displacement of thousands of individuals.