An Australian archaeologist and two Papua New Guinea researchers held for a week by 20 armed men in a remote part of the Pacific Island nation were released on Sunday, while their captors remain at large, a local official said.
Professor Bryce Barker and doctoral student Teppsy Beni from the University of Southern Queensland, and Papua New Guinea National Mu-seum researcher Jemina Haro were released after a ransom payment, said Alphonse Seiyaka, an official with the government of Mount Bosavi, where the three were held in rugged terrain.
“They didn’t catch the criminals,” Seiyaka said. As soon as soldiers exchanged money for the Aus-tralian and the two Papua New Guinea women, he said, the captors “ran away into the bush”.
Seiyaka declined to specify the ransom amount but said it was less than the 3.5 million kina ($960,000) initially demanded.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong thanked the Papua New Guinea government for “securing a safe and peaceful resolution”.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said this was the first such incident in his country and “it must not be repeated”.
“The police and the army have surrounded the area and will be operating there until you surrender,” he warned the armed men in a statement.
Barker’s team was investigating whether Papua New Guinea provided the bridge for the first human migration to Australia tens of thousands of years ago. The remote village of Fogomaiyu, in the Mount Bosavi region in Hela province, is part of the col-lapsed cone of an extinct volcano.
The group, seized on Feb 19 in Fogomaiyu vil-lage, was taken 10 kilometers into the bush.
The University of Southern Queensland was “relieved to hear that our much-loved colleague” had been released, said vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie.—APP