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23 Dead in Papua New Guinea Tribal Massacres

This handout photo taken on July 9, 2019, and obtained from the Department Of Health, Hela Province in Papua New Guinea, shows dead bodies lined up on a road in Hela province, following a spike in tribal violence.

Tribal violence has killed 23 people, including pregnant women and children, in Papua New Guinea's highlands region.

Authorities said Wednesday the killings took place in the Pacific island nation's Hela province over the span of several days.

An attack Sunday in the village of Munima left an estimated 7 people dead.

On Monday, an attack in the village of Karida left 16 dead, including children and two pregnant women. Many of the victims had been mutilated and were hard to recognize, according to local health officials.

Reports widely differ on the number of people killed in the attacks.

In a comment to the Reuters news agency, Philip Undialu, the governor of Hela Province, said the latest attack was in response to earlier violence.

"It was retaliation of a previous attack. Both attacks were made in an innocent community, where people were not expecting it and all of us are in a state of shock."

Undialu called the attacks "a very sad story."

Following the violence, PNG's prime minister, James Marape, called for greater police presence in the region.

"How can a province of 400,000 people function with policing law and order with under 60 policeman, and occasionally operational military and police that does no more than band aid maintenance," he said in a post to his Facebook page.

Hela Administrator William Bando has asked for 100 new officers in the province, a sharp increase from the 40 officers currently working there.

Much of the tribal violence in the South Pacific nation stems from resource control issues and tribal boundaries. A growing population and a proliferation of firearms have exacerbated violence in the region.

Marape has sworn to deal decisive justice.

"In memory of the innocent who continue to die at the hands of gun toting criminals, your time is up, before I had someone else to report to, now I have no one else to report to but the innocent you kill," he said.

"To all who have guns and kill and hide behind the mask of community, learn from what I will do to criminals who killed innocent people, I am not afraid to use strongest measures in law on you. Last week I responded to question on death penalty on the floor of parliament, it is already a law."