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At least 53 people were killed in clashes in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea, where deadly violence between more than a dozen tribal groups has been escalating, a senior security official said.

George Kakas, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary acting superintendent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the death toll from the incident in Enga Province was likely to rise. It was unclear from his remarks when the killings had taken place, and the police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“These tribesmen have been killed all over the countryside, all over the bush,” Mr. Kakas told the broadcaster. “Police and defense forces have had to go in to do their best to quell the situation at their own risk.”

Bodies were found across a field, along roads and near a river, Mr. Kakas said. Video footage and photos shared on social media, whose authenticity could not immediately be confirmed, showed dozens of bodies piled onto the back of an open truck.

The police said as many as 17 different tribes were involved in the clashes.

About 10 million people live in Papua New Guinea, which is bigger than California. It is mostly rural, and much of the population works in agriculture. Culturally, it is extremely diverse; more than 300 tribes are spread across the country and the bordering Indonesian regions of Papua and West Papua, according to Survival, a group that advocates for Indigenous rights.

Tribal violence has long plagued Enga Province, which is in central Papua New Guinea, but it has become more frequent lately because of political issues and tensions over resource management, which have together led to an escalation of tit-for-tat violence, according to the ABC. Last year, the authorities put the province on a three-month lockdown to contain the unrest.

At least 150 people were killed in clashes in 2023, and the death toll has been rising in recent years as tribespeople have moved from using traditional bows and arrows to high-powered firearms, according to Australian news outlets.

Peter Ipatas, Enga’s governor, called on Australia last year to help security forces in Papua New Guinea contain the violence. “We do not have the capacity to fix this,” he told the newspaper The Australian.

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