PNG police arrest 320 on sorcery, cult charges

Papua, New Guinea - Police in Papua New Guinea have arrested 320 people for practising sorcery and involvement in religious cults.

The National newspaper reports one of the men arrested had been sought in connection with the death of three people.

Sorcery is widespread in PNG where some villages only encountered Western civilisation in the 1930s.

The paper reports, police raided three villages on Monday near the city of Lae on the north coast and arrested leaders of a "cargo cult" and their followers aged between 20 and 70.

Six of the men arrested were charged with practising sorcery.

Cargo cults believe that Western goods or cargo, first encountered through missionaries and explorers, are created by ancestral spirits.

They have been known to build airstrips in the jungles in the belief that planes would land with cargo.

One of the female cult leaders, Malamba Kifea, said sorcery improved the livelihood of the people in Kasin village, a remote settlement some eight hours walk from the main highway.

Another group in Sadau village used skeletons from ancestors to summon "supernatural powers" to predict the future and bring prosperity.

"We can invoke blessings for protection, hunting, luck and to increase wealth," said elderly cult leader Erbu Kuriong.

Mr Kuriong said the sorcerers charged for their fortune telling, and claimed the proceeds were to be used to build a permanent home for the group.

The National reports, Nawaeb district community development officer Livingston Motoring, says cult beliefs are a development issue.

"They resort to sorcery in the belief that it will help alleviate their hardship," he said.