PORT MORESBY Riot police have been sent to a remote mountainous village in Papua New Guinea after a gun battle between police and members of a cult involved in human sacrifices, local media reported Wednesday.
The National newspaper said several people were killed and many injured in the fighting last week in the Finschhafen area of Morobe province, 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital, Port Moresby.
Black magic is widespread in Papua New Guinea, a jungle-clad, mountainous South Pacific island nation where some villages only encountered Western civilization in the 1930s. Women suspected of being witches are often hanged or burnt to death.
Police who flew to the area Sunday said they believed they were dealing with a cult movement involved in murders and human sacrifices to their gods, the newspaper said.
Morobe's chief police inspector, Augustine Wampe, said suspicions of cult activity started in April when a child was kidnapped and police were attacked trying to rescue the child.
"It takes a whole day to walk from (the town of) Sialum to the village in the mountains, where the child was held. The four (police) were ambushed and attacked by the villagers," he said.
"Gunfire was exchanged and one of the policemen was injured in the leg with an arrow. Another policeman fell over a cliff."
Police reinforcements were attacked and forced to retreat. The villagers then went on a rampage killing one man and chopping up his body and burning houses, Wampe said.
Wampe said riot police flown in Sunday were trying to negotiate a peace with the villagers and bring those responsible for the kidnapping and fighting to justice.