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Witch hunts on rise in Papua New Guinea

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- More than 50 people have been killed in recent months in Papua New Guinea, accused of practicing witchcraft, a human rights organization said.

The deaths occur even though the government ordered a parliamentary commission to investigating ways to prevent the witch hunts that have arisen from tribalism, underdevelopment and superstition, The Times of London reported Friday.

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"When dozens of people have been killed, it's clear that the government is not doing enough to protect its own citizens and maintain the rule of law," said Apolosi Bose of Amnesty International.

Recent media reports indicate the the persecution of witches has grown in the eastern half of New Guinea, north of Australia, particularly in the isolated Highlands region.

Papua New Guinea's 1976 Sorcery Act permits white, or good, magic but punishes black, or evil, magic with up to two years in jail. Witch-hunters have a good chance of escaping punishment because the country's police force is poorly trained, inadequately funded and rife with corruption, the British newspaper reported.

"People often don't trust the police or the judiciary and instead blame events on supernatural causes and punish suspected sorcerers," Bose said, noting that accusations of witchcraft may have arisen because of a property dispute, illnesses such as cancer or AIDS, or inter-tribal marriages.

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