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Tribes find peace in PNG

A Huli Wigman in traditional dress came to show support for the reconciliation event. Photo by Hannah Hoskin
After generations of warring, looting and a vicious daily cycle of violence and retribution, the enemy tribes of the Papua New Guinea Southern Highlands have signed permanent peace treaties.

The ‘Tari District Peace Agreement’ was negotiated through peace-building activities by a dedicated team of local volunteers working for the Australian organisation Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP), a program of Uniting Church Overseas Aid.

In the hot sun, hundreds of tribesmen marched in a long line through the village of Tari, led by Secretary for YAP Joy Balazo and other YAP coordinators. They were all clad proudly in bright blue YAP t-shirts and flanked on all sides by prayer-warrior women dressed in long white dresses.

These clans have been at war for so long that the sight of them walking unified brought hundreds of Tari villagers out on the streets to follow alongside.

Children ran to get the best view, old ladies wept with pure joy and many shook their heads in disbelief at what they were seeing.

The peace process has taken more than seven years of negotiation by former nun, Ms Balazo, who was nominated for Australian of the Year in 2007 for her work in fostering and negotiating peace agreements in the Asia Pacific region.

“If people are given the place and are willing to take up the opportunity to understand and learn to respect people’s cultural, religious and political differences then I believe peace is always possible,” said Ms Balazo.

Under the treaty all 32 tribes will lay down weapons and cease decades of aggression, and agree to compensate each other for property destroyed and lives lost during decades of ongoing conflict over land, stock and crops.

They will leave the past in the past and learn from their mistakes.

They will endeavour to react to conflict with words rather than violence.

The Southern Highlands region has been in a constant State of Emergency since 2001, when Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare sent in the army to restore law, order and good governance in the region.

YAP negotiators will continue to work with the tribes on programs to sustain peace in communities, while tribes will work together to ensure prosperity for their region and their people.

Photo : A Huli Wigman in traditional dress came to show support for the reconciliation event. Photo by Hannah Hoskin