Hostages freed in Papua New Guinea after week in captivity

A group of archaeology researchers were taken hostage by heavily armed men demanding a cash ransom.

Bryce Barker, who was held for a week in the Papua New Guinea Highlands by an armed group, is escorted from a plane following his release in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Bryce Barker, third from left, a professor at an Australian university, is escorted from a plane in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, following his release from captivity [AFP]

Three hostages have been freed in Papua New Guinea, the country’s prime minister said, after they were held for a week in the highlands by an armed group.

A group of archaeology researchers, including a professor from New Zealand working for an Australian university, two local university graduates and a programme coordinator, were taken hostage by heavily armed men demanding a cash ransom.

The group were on a field trip to the remote village of Fogoma’iu in the Mount Bosavi region, near the boundary of Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.

Earlier this week, the captors released a woman who was part of the group.

“It took us a while but the last three has been successfully returned,” Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement on Sunday.

Professor Bryce Barker and doctoral student Teppsy Beni from the University of Southern Queensland, and Papua New Guinea National Museum researcher Jemina Haro were released after a ransom payment, said Alphonse Seiyaka, an official with the government of Mount Bosavi.

Police said they were returning to the capital Port Moresby with the three freed hostages Sunday afternoon, where Marape would greet them.

The group were taken hostage at gunpoint last Sunday in a remote and densely forested region.

Police had been negotiating with the hostage takers, who initially demanded a ransom of $1m — an enormous sum in one of the Pacific’s poorest nations — before dropping the asking price and abandoning a 24-hour deadline.

Marape said the hostages had been freed after “covert operations” and the original ransom demand had not been met, but did not provide further details.

“We apologise to the families of those taken as hostages for ransom,” Marape said. “To criminals, there is no profit in crime. We thank God that life was protected.”

The University of Southern Queensland was “relieved to hear that our much-loved colleague” had been released, said vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie.

“Our deepest thanks go to the governments of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, and the many people who worked tirelessly during this extremely difficult and sensitive time to secure their release,” she said in a statement.

Papua New Guinea’s highlands are a sprawling expanse of jungle-cloaked hills where the central government and security forces have little sway.

In recent years, the regions have seen an increase in tribal warfare and the proliferation of weapons.

Source: News Agencies