Witch Hunt Continues in Papua New Guinea as Police Rescue 2 Elderly Women About to be Burned for Sorcery

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By Vittorio Hernandez | February 20, 2013 9:56 AM EST

Despite the international furor caused by the burning to death of a 20-year-old woman earlier this month in Papua New Guinea over accusations of sorcery, witch hunts continue in the small Pacific country.

On Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported that PNG police rescued two elderly women from burning by villagers. The women, accused of practicing sorcery, were tied to posts and about to be torched.

The rescue happened just hours after Superintendent Martin Lakari, provincial police commander, disclosed the arrest of a man and a woman accused of burning Kepari Leniata in the central highlands of Papua in early February for allegedly killing a six-year-old boy using sorcery.

Arrested were Janet Ware, 28, and Andrew Watea, 33, after a widespread manhunt that reached the jungles of central Papua New Guinea. The two are the mother and uncle of the dead boy.

Before their arrest, the police detained more than 100 people and question about Ms Leniata's death who was dragged, stripped naked, doused with petrol and set afire. Reports said burning tyres were thrown at her body while she screamed in pain.

Police tried to rescue her when they heard reports of the burning, but they were chased away by the jeering crowd.

A New York Times blog said elderly women are often accused of sorcery when things go wrong, cited an Australian Network report that one reason why these women are easy targets is because it is one way of grabbing land in the resource-rich country.

The United Nations Human Rights agency confirmed the TV report of an increase in killings with older women as victims of torture and rape, used to deprive women of land and property.

However, Post Courier pointed out that despite the spate of witch burning incidents, majority of residents fear and are disgusted at the lynch mobs.

Papuan Prime Minister Peter O'Neill vowed to bring Ms Lemata's killers to justice.

"No one commits such a despicable act in the society that all of us, including Kepari, belong to," Daily Mail quoted the prime minister.

Malakai Tabar, a member of Papua's Law Reform Commission, sought changes in the country's laws to make it difficult for sudden deaths to be blamed on sorcerers.

The UN condemned the continued practice of witch burning in PNG.

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