CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - More than 20 people including pregnant women and children have been killed in recent tribal violence in Papua New Guinea, media reported on Wednesday.
The death toll and dates of the violence in the remote highland province of Hela varied in reports by Australian Broadcasting Corp. and the Post-Courier newspaper.
Hela Gov. Philip Undialu told ABC the latest violence was on Monday when 16 people including women and children died at the village of Karida.
The killings were probably retaliation for an earlier attack that left around seven dead, Undialu said.
"This has escalated into the massacre of innocent women and kids," Undialu said.
The Post-Courier, based in the South Pacific island nation's capital Port Moresby, reported as many as 24 people were killed in the villages of Karida and Peta since Saturday.
Six people had been ambushed and killed near Peta on Saturday, Hela Police Chief Inspector Teddy Augwi told the newspaper.
The victims' relatives retaliated with rifles the next day, killing between 16 and 18 people at Karida, including pregnant women, he said.
"This is not a tribal fight where the opposing villagers face each other on field," Augwi told the newspaper. "This is a fight in guerrilla warfare, meaning they play hide-and-seek and ambush their enemies."
Many villagers had fled the violence, Hela Administrator William Bando told the newspaper.
It was not immediately clear if any suspects had been arrested. Papua New Guinea Police spokesman Superintendent Dominic Kakas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Tribal violence is common in Papua New Guinea's interior, where villagers avenge relatives in retaliation known as payback.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said those responsible for the fatal attacks could face the death penalty, ABC reported.
The prime minister's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.