Two women were tortured for three days in a remote village in New Guinea and then beheaded after being accused of using witchcraft.
Police said that when they tried to intervene to save the elderly women on the island of Bougainville, they were attacked by an angry mob. South Bougainville villagers ignored the orders to let the women go.
In recent years, several people, usually women, have been executed after being accused of practicing sorcery on the island, where deaths and mysterious illness are often given magical origins.
While the nation’s Post-Courier newspaper reported the two women died on Thursday, other reports say only one was killed.
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“The two women were rounded up and taken to Lopele village after they were suspected of practicing sorcery and blamed for the death of the former teacher, who was from Lopele village,” police inspector Herman Birengka told the Post-Courier.
He said the police feared the using force would have led to more deaths. The two women were beheaded in front of the police, while they tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution.
“These killings were both barbaric and senseless,” Birengka said.
Villagers in Tandorima accused the women of using witchcraft to kill a popular teacher, who died weeks ago.
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"We were helpless. We could not do anything," Birengka said.
“We even organised a customary mediation team from Arawa to go and talk with the Lopele villagers but this too was turned down. We managed to collect some knives and axes from the villagers but were threatened and we had to retreat from the area,” he added.
Police say the mob burned down homes belonging to their relatives, sending them fleeing for their lives in to the jungle.
Incidents like these are becoming common in the remote highland villages. A young woman accused of being a witch and killing a young boy was burned alive earlier this year. Police, again, said they were unable to intervene due to the mob threats.
“I wish we could have helped these two women,” said Birengka said of the latest murders. “But the villagers who had kidnapped the women were armed with five high-powered firearms, knives and axes.”
After a string of executions like these in 2009, the chairman of the Constitutional Review and Law Reform Commission said the claim of witchcraft was being used as an excuse to carry out murder and called for tougher legislation on the issue.
“I'm disgusted with my officers for failing to find a way of stopping these people who showed utter disregard to law and justice,” Birengka said. “While they might well have been threatened, those police should have tried harder from the very beginning.”