At least 24 people were killed, including two pregnant women in a brutal flare-up of violence between rival tribes over several days in Hela province on Tuesday.

According to a local official, 24 people are confirmed to have died in a rugged region in the west of the country, in a three-day spasm of violence between rival tribes.

“There could be more deaths today”, Hela provincial administrator William Bando told AFP on Wednesday.

“We are still waiting for today’s brief from our officials on the ground,” he added.

Bando has called for at least 100 police personnel to be deployed to reinforce some 40 local officers.

The incident has shocked both the country and the recently appointed Prime Minister, James Marape, whose constituency includes the district where the killings occurred.

Prime Minister James Marape called the news “one of the saddest days of his life” while promising to track down the perpetrators.

“It is one of the worst outbreaks of tribal violence in PNG for years”, Marpe added.

“It’s a very sad story,” Philip Undialu, governor of Hela told Reuters while explaining that the killings were part of a conflict running for years.

“It was retaliation of a previous attack. Both attacks were made in an innocent community where people were not expecting it and all of us are in a state of shock,” he said.

“The attack appeared to be in retaliation for the ambush and murder for six people on Monday”, said local media.

Papua New Guinea is among the poorest countries of Asia with about 40 per cent of the population living on less than $1 a day, according to the UN.