Human sacrifice cult in shootout with PNG police: report

Sydney, Australia - Papua New Guinea police and members of a cult suspected of human sacrifices clashed in a series of gunbattles that left several people dead and wounded, local media reported Wednesday.

Riot police have been flown into a remote mountainous area in the province of Morobe to restore order, The National newspaper reported.

Police believe they are dealing with a cult movement involved in "willful murders and human sacrifices as offerings to their gods," the paper said.

Provincial police commander Augustine Wampe said police were investigating reports of several murders in which people were beheaded and their heads impaled on stakes and paraded around.

"The reported activities of the people point to cult activity," Wampe said.

Belief in witchcraft and the supernatural is widespread in the half-island state north of Australia, and women accused of sorcery are sometimes killed by mobs.

Wampe said suspicions were first aroused when a child was kidnapped recently by Songita villagers.

Four officers who set out to free the child were ambushed.

"Gunfire was exchanged and one of the policemen was injured in the leg with an arrow. Another policeman fell over a cliff. Another policeman who was lost was found a day later," Wampe said.

Reinforcements were despatched but the team of eight officers was forced to retreat after an exchange of gunfire with the villagers in which one man was reported killed and several injured.

The villagers regrouped and went on a rampage, attacking police and public servants and burning down houses, Wampe said.

They also killed a man believed to be a tribal enemy, chopping up the body, he said, but was unable to give a total of the number of people killed in the unrest.