SYDNEY - Four men were arrested Sunday in connection with a bloody ambush of Australian and New Zealand trekkers in Papua New Guinea, with another villager murdered for allegedly harbouring the bandits.
Police said the four were captured on Sunday morning - three in the town of Wau and a fourth in nearby Salamaua - in connection with the brutal attack on a hiking group on the remote Black Cat Track on Tuesday evening.
Two local porters were hacked to death with machetes and up to six others were seriously wounded. Four of the eight tourists were also hurt, including one who was speared in the leg, in a harrowing attack on the rugged jungle track.
"I believe it is only a matter of time before the other two are captured and brought in," police Commissioner Tom Kulunga said of Sunday's arrests.
He commended locals for their "tireless efforts" tracking down the men but urged them to leave matters to police, after a man accused of harbouring the suspects was killed with machetes by angry relatives of one of the dead porters.
Police intervened in the attack but were unable to save the man, who died from blood loss on the way to hospital.
"Whilst I encourage the local community to continue to assist police to capture the remaining attackers, I urge you not to take the law into your own hands," Kulunga said.
"There will be an investigation and the persons responsible for this recent death will be arrested. No one has the right to take anyone's life."
Ninga Yawa, the chairman of the Black Cat Trail Association, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation porter Matthew Gibob's family had killed the man in revenge.
"They felt that he deserves to be treated the same way as they treated Matthew," he said.
Yawa said he believed people from a rival village in the trekking area called Bitoi were responsible for the ambush.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has warned that the crimes will attract the death penalty, and the family of the other slain porter Kerry Rarovu, told ABC they felt "the criminals must die the same as Kerry died".
Kulunga said a major police operation was now under way in Morobe province to track down the final two fugitives, with 30 additional officers flown in to assist with the manhunt.
He acknowledged that the bloody attack - described by Australian tour leader Christie King as "a frenzied bloody massacre which made no sense" in an interview Sunday - had done great damage to the local communities and PNG more generally.
"(But) we must not forget the dedication, commitment, loyalty and professionalism of all Papua New Guineans involved, including the local porters who defended the trekkers with their lives, and the police in the initial response and rescue operations," he said.
"The commitment of the villagers in helping police bring in the four suspects speaks volumes for our people's genuineness and hospitality as well," he added.
"The attack was an isolated and one-off incident and not a reflection of the generally friendly people of the Morobe Province."
Crime in Papua New Guinea is rampant, including in the capital Port Moresby where in June four Chinese nationals were hacked to death, with one reportedly beheaded and the others dismembered.