A series of killings by a cannibal cult whose members believe they have supernatural powers to identify sorcerers
has delayed elections in the Commonwealth nation of Papua New Guinea.
The cult is accused of killing and eating seven people — five men and two women - whom they say practiced black magic in remote jungle territory around the coastal town of Madang. Police say they have arrested twenty-nine members, including a 13-year-old boy
, but the leader, a local councillor, remain at large.
The cult began as an attempt to curb extortion by self-proclaimed sorcerers who were demanding money from sick people. But the anti-witchcraft activists began to believe they had special powers to detect sorcerers.
Belief in sorcery and witchcraft is widespread in the Pacific nation, which has a Sorcery Act aimed at preventing attacks on people accused of practicing black magic.
The series of attacks by the 500-member cult has disrupted elections and added to delays of the two-week ballot which was due to end on Friday.
Allegations of bribery and vote rigging, as well as difficulties in accessing ballot boxes from remote provinces, have added to the delays.
Voting may end next week.
Police said villagers near the headquarters of the cult had been unable to vote because of fears for their safety.
A police commander, Anthony Wagambie Jr, said twelve cult members committed the murders and all members were involved in eating the victims
“They were looking at going out and looking for sorcerers, suspected people who do sorcery in the area,” he said.
“So they started getting together and saying they will go out and get rid of the sorcerers. How they pinpointed these people ? They said they were led there by spirits, but they’ve gone a step further and started killing people and eating their body parts.”
Mr Wagambie said several members had confessed to eating body parts and making soup from the victims.
A local MP, Ken Fairweather, said “nearly everyone” in the country believe that sorcery, or puripuri, is used to place curses or kill people.
“There’s even political leaders today and other leaders who are terrified of puripuri,” he told ABC Radio.
“I’ve seen people, seen them with my own eyes starve themselves to death because they believe that they’ve been poisoned.”