Sixteen women and children were killed in the remote town of Tari in Hela Province, Papua New Guinea in an attack described by police as “barbaric and inhumane.”
Two of the women killed were pregnant.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Pills Pimua Kolo, a worker from the province’s Department of Health said the attack took place on Monday morning around 6 a.m. local time. The bodies were chopped into pieces and were hard to recognize, he said.
The post included photos that showed bodies wrapped in blue bags as they were prepared for transport out of the village.
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, acting Police Commissioner Francis Tokura condemned the killings, saying that it was a “tragedy” and an “unbelievable, unthinkable and atrocious criminal act that must be dealt with swiftly and severely.”
Tokura added that the police will use “all available resources to bring the killers to justice,” and that the Hela Provincial police commander ordered a team of 30 men, comprising of soldiers from the PNG Defense Force and local police “to stop any further violence and capture the killers.”
The statement also said that there would be a security assessment in the region to determine if additional manpower would be needed. It also promised a “long-term approach to address the issue in Hela.”
Hela Province’s Governor Philip Undialu said the motive behind the killings was unknown but that he believed it was possible it was in retaliation for a previous incident, ABC news reported.
Earlier on Tuesday, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape posted on Facebook condemning the violence, saying that it was “one of the saddest days of my life.”
Marape added that the province of up to 400,000 people could not have proper law and order with only 60 policemen and the occasional military patrol in the area. He said he had repeatedly requested “more permanent police” to monitor the area – which houses liquefied natural gas and the power transmission line for the Porgera Gold Mine – over the last five years.
In a somber message, Marape vowed to track down the perpetrators.
“In memory of the innocent who continue to die at the hands of gun toting criminals, your time is up,” Marape said.
“To all who have guns and kill and hide behind the mask of community, learn from what I will do to criminals who killed innocent people…I am coming for you.”
CNN’s Kara Fox contributed to this report.