PORT MORESBY - Two elderly women accused of practising witchcraft in Papua New Guinea were tortured and murdered by a group of men who dragged their bodies to a riverbank and burnt them, police say.
A manhunt is under way for the offenders following Monday's killings near the banks of the Bumbu River in the port city of Lae, regional police chief Giossi Labi said.
He described the actions of the killers from one of the city's squatter settlements as "animalistic and inhuman".
"This is a city and one would think people would be more civilised," he told PNG's Post-Courier newspaper.
Police were hunting the killers, who would be charged with first degree murder, he said.
The two women from PNG's Eastern Highlands Province were accused of using sorcery to cause the death of a young man, community leader Nelson Zatura said.
The women were confronted by male relatives of the dead man and bashed with metal bars, he said.
"They were bound with ropes and dragged to the river.
"There the mob piled old car tyres on the bodies, splashed kerosene over them and set them alight," Zatura said.
Residents of surrounding compounds told reporters they watched in horror as the bodies burned on the riverbank.
Murders of people accused of using sorcery to kill others are common in PNG, where traditional beliefs still hold sway in many regions.
Tribal fights also are an ongoing problem, especially in PNG's Highlands provinces where feuds can last for decades.
Police in Enga Province are seeking the killers of five men from the Mangalya tribe who were on their way to hold peace talks with the Ambulin tribe when they were ambushed last week.
Heavily armed police have moved into the area and commanders have appealed to the Ambulin to hand over the killers of the peace negotiators, The National newspaper reported today.