Stony-faced Jasper proving a hit

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - IT may be just a stone in a bucket of water, but the rock with a human face is attracting hundreds of worshippers to a mountain village in PNG.

Religious leaders complain the cult following for the stone, named Jasper, is stopping people going to church on the island of Bougainville.

People have been travelling from throughout the region to the village of Iuno, in the Konnou district, since late last year, PNG's Post-Courier newspaper reports.

Followers of Jasper bow to the stone which communicates through a messenger, Aimari, who receives Jasper's directions in his dreams, locals say.

Some followers say Jasper has instructed them to collect stones of certain colours from river beds and pile them up ready to sell as "valuable stones".

Last week, a Jasper disciple travelled to the town of Arawa in central Bougainville with his bag of stones but could not sell them because people thought they were just ordinary stones.

Police in the southern town of Buin say they can do nothing because the area is still a no-go zone for police and a stronghold of the Meekamui movement of the late secessionist leader Francis Ona.