A group of Australian and New Zealand trekkers have been savagely attacked and injured by bandits in Papua New Guinea (PNG), with two of their guides hacked to death, officials said yesterday.
The deadly incident happened at dusk on Tuesday after the group set up their tents along the popular and rugged Black Cat Track in the Pacific nation’s northern Morobe Province, with robbery the suspected motive.
“The attack resulted in the deaths of two PNG nationals who were porters for the group,” the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said.
“Other members of the group, including eight Australians, one New Zealander and a number of PNG nationals, sustained injuries during the attack, however none of the injuries are life-threatening,” it added.
PNG police spokesman Dominic Kakas told reporters the guides were hacked to death with machetes and four of the trekkers badly assaulted, including one who was speared.
“One of the expatriates was speared through the left leg, one was slashed on the arm, another suffered severe lacerations to the head and another also had severe cuts,” he said. “Some of the other porters were more seriously injured.”
“There were six in the mob that attacked them,” Dakas added, all of whom escaped. “One had a rifle, another a home-made gun, as well as bush knives and spears.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corp said workers at a local mining company helped the injured and traumatized trekkers walk to a medical clinic at their nearby camp.
Kakas said they were then taken to a hospital in Lae.
Acting Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tanya Plibersek condemned the attack.
“This was a savage and unprovoked assault by what may have been a gang of thieves,” she said, adding that she had been assured authorities in PNG, one of Australia’s biggest aid recipients, would fully investigate the case.
Crime and lawlessness in the poverty-stricken nation is a serious concern, including in the capital, Port Moresby, where in June four Chinese nationals were hacked to death, with one reportedly beheaded and the others dismembered.
Mark Hitchcock, a spokesman for tour operator PNG Trekking Adventures, said the injured Australians were now comfortable and resting.
“This is an isolated area, an isolated incident that shocked us all. Totally out of character for the track,” he told the Australian broadcaster.
While the attack was believed to be a robbery, some reports suggested it could also be related to a disagreement between porters from PNG’s lowlands and locals living in the highlands.
The Black Cat Track was the scene of bitter fighting between Australian and US troops and Japanese forces in 1943, and is regarded as one of the most challenging treks in the wild and mountainous country.
The Lonely Planet guide book on PNG describes the track as “suitable only for masochists and Israeli paratroopers.”