Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - A woman accused of witchcraft was burned alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town in one of the most high-profile sorcery-related murders ever in this South Pacific island nation, police said on Friday.

The brutal slaying of the 20-year-old mother of one, Kepari Leniata, on Wednesday has been condemned by the nation’s prime minister, police and diplomatic observers.

Leniata was stripped naked by several assailants, tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused with petrol, and then set alight on a pile of car tyres and rubbish in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, Dominic Kakas, a police spokesman said.

Some of the hundreds of bystanders took photographs.

Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of two of the country’s biggest-circulating newspapers, The Nation and Post-Courier.

Leniata was accused of sorcery by the relatives of a six-year-old boy who had died in the local hospital the day before, Kakas said.

”Investigations are continuing. We’ve got good leads. The husband is the prime suspect,” Kakas said.

Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga described the murder as “shocking and devilish.”

“We are in the 21st century and this is totally unacceptable,” Commissioner Kulunga said in a statement on Thursday.

He suggested courts be established to deal with sorcery allegations, as an alternative to villagers dispensing justice.

Prime Minister Pete O'Neill said he had instructed police to use all available manpower to bring the killers to justice.

“It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with,” O'Neill said.

– Sapa-AP