BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in Papua New Guinea vowed to find the men who axed to death a woman accused of using witchcraft to spark a measles outbreak in the country’s remote jungle highlands, a missionary said on Wednesday after meeting authorities.
The woman, Mifila, was one of four women accused with 13 of their family members of using sorcery to cause measles deaths last November in the village of Fiyawena, in Enga province, said Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz.
Women are often accused and killed in witch hunts even though laws passed in 2013 make revenge killings over black magic punishable by death. Human Rights Watch earlier this year named Papua New Guinea as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman due to gender based violence.
Lutz, an American who grew up in the South Pacific nation, led a group of about 20 missionaries and local police to Fiyawena in January to intervene and save the women’s lives.
But last week about 10 men from a village across the river from Fiyawena, armed with homemade guns, axes and machetes, attacked two of the women and killed Mifila in front of her family, witnesses from the village told Lutz.
“Police have promised to move in and take action,” Lutz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone after meeting with local and provincial police in Enga’s capital Wabag.
“The villagers are still scared that the men will come back. It’s still a tense situation for the community,” he said, adding that the only access to the village is by walking for several hours or getting a plane to a local landing strip.
“It’s deep jungle out there ... This is a big piece of jungle for people to hide in.”
Police could not immediately be reached for comment.
Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world with the majority of its 7 million people living in traditional societies.
People in the country are deeply superstitious and accusations of sorcery are commonly used to explain deaths caused by disease or to kill rivals or enemies.
Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith