Hostages 'traumatised' but safe after week-long PNG abduction
Three hostages, including a New Zealand archaeologist, were freed in Papua New Guinea on Sunday after a tense week of negotiations between police and armed kidnappers in the country's rugged highlands.
Professor Bryce Barker, alongside his two Papua New Guinean colleagues, were seen walking across the tarmac alongside police at Port Moresby's airport after officials announced their safe release.
"It has been a stressful week for all involved and to finally have the hostages back safely in the custody of our security personnel is very important for us as a country," PNG Prime Minister James Marape said.
Barker -- a professor at Australia's University of Southern Queensland -- and the two women were taken hostage at gunpoint last Sunday in a remote and densely forested region near Mount Bosavi -- about 570 kilometres (360 miles) northwest of Port Moresby.
Marape said all three appeared unharmed although "obviously traumatised" after the "random opportunist crime".
Earlier this week, the captors released another woman who was also part of the group of academics working in the area when they were kidnapped.
Police had been negotiating with the hostage takers, who initially demanded a ransom of US$1 million -- an enormous sum in one of the Pacific's poorest nations -- before dropping the asking price and abandoning a 24-hour deadline.
Australia's and New Zealand's foreign ministers welcomed the news and thanked PNG authorities for their work.
"I welcome news from PNG that all hostages have been released and will soon be reunited with their families," Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.
Marape said the hostages had been freed after "covert operations" and the original ransom demand had not been paid -- 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."
Police were now searching for the armed group, he added.
Barker's Australian colleagues were "relieved" by the release of the "much-loved" and "highly-regarded" professor, University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie said.
The archaeologist had many years of experience working in the Pacific nation and was on a research trip when he was seized, Mackenzie said.
PNG'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 modern weapons.