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Tribal war breaks out over gas pipeline land

Tribal fighting sparked by land ownership claims along the projected route ...

Tribal fighting sparked by land ownership claims along the projected route of the PNG-Queensland gas pipeline has left 25 people dead and dozens wounded.

Industry observers said the violence between rival clans for promised royalties would damage the prospects of the $8.59billion project, which already faces competition from a Timor Sea-Queensland pipeline consortium.

The Kutubu, Gobe, Hides and Moran gas and oil fields in PNG's Southern Highlands - opposite Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria - are operated by a US-Australian-PNG consortium comprising Exxon-Mobil, Chevron Niugini, Oil Search, Oregon and the PNG Government's Mineral Resources Development Corporation.

Four girls and six women were among those killed in tribal hit-and-run raids in 10 days until last Thursday.

The deputy chairman of the Hides 4 Rig-site Landowners Association, Mr Thomas Potabe, said the conflict between two sub-clans of the Takima tribe and the Komo tribe was sparked by a land dispute in the Hides gas project area.

Twenty-five people from the Wagia and Wayai sub-clans were axed to death as they returned home from vegetable gardens, he said.

The situation was tense, and he appealed to the PNG Government to intervene in the Komo area, where there were "no police, government administration officers or health workers".

Speaking on behalf of 27 landowner groups comprising the Hides 4 rig-site association, he said it was essential the Government bring in health, education and law and order services to reverse declining living standards.

Highlands region police commander Mr Tony Wagambie said police would be sent to the area once reports of tribal warfare were verified.

A spokesman for one of the gas consortium developers said: "Nobody seems sure of the numbers [killed and wounded], but this is not good news for the project."