CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — After spending a week held hostage by an armed group demanding a ransom in Papua New Guinea’s remote Highlands region, an archaeologist is expected to return to Australia soon.
On Monday, police and soldiers were hunting the group of around 20 gunmen who on Sunday released New Zealand citizen Bryce Barker, a professor at Australia’s University of Southern Queensland, and Papua New Guinea nationals Jemina Haro and Teppsy Beni.
The three were taken captive Feb. 19 while conducting fieldwork at Mount Bosavi in the wilds of the South Pacific island nation. A fourth hostage had already been released.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong tweeted Sunday that the former hostages “will soon be reunited with their families.”
The three were flown to Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby where they were welcomed by the nation’s Prime Minister James Marape.
“It was a random, opportunistic crime that took place, but something that I condemned in the various strongest terms possible,” Marape told reporters.
He said the three hostages were secured “through covert operations” without paying the 3.5 million Papua New Guinea kina ($993,000) ransom. However, media reports say a significantly smaller ransom had been paid.
Kidnap for ransom is an uncommon crime in Papua New Guinea, a tribal society of 9 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers.
Marape said police remained determined to catch the perpetrators.
“Let me tell all the criminals: Police firepower is always higher than criminal firepower. I will not tolerate this sort of nonsense anymore,” Marape told reporters, adding that police and soldiers remained at the crime scene.
USQ Vice-Chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie said Sunday the university was relieved to hear their much-loved colleague and his research team had been released.
“Bryce is a highly regarded archaeologist and a valued colleague at the University of Southern Queensland and in the wider archaeological community. He has many years experience in undertaking research in PNG,” Mackenzie said. “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.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that one of the hostages had already been released, not two.
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