Papua New Guinea kidnappers release last 3 hostages

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian-based archaeologist and two Papua New Guinea nationals have been released from captivity after being taken hostage by an armed group in a remote part of Papua New Guinea several days ago, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Sunday.

“I welcome news from PNG that all hostages have been released and will soon be reunited with their families,” Wong said on Twitter.

The academic, Bryce Barker, and the other hostages were reportedly held at gunpoint by 20 armed men, according to a local police report. Police did not say when the kidnapping occurred.

Barker is a New Zealand national based at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia.

The archaeologist and his research crew were conducting fieldwork in the remote Southern Highlands province of the poor South Pacific island nation when they were taken hostage by the armed group.

Papua New Guinea authorities confirmed the release of one hostage on Friday. The last three hostages — the professor and two Papua New Guinea women — have now been freed safely.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said the final three hostages were secured “through covert operations” without paying the $3.5 million kina ($993,000) ransom.

“To criminals, there is no profit in crime,” he wrote on Facebook.

Wong thanked the Papua New Guinea government for its help in securing a safe and peaceful resolution.

“Also thanks to the Australian and NZ officials who helped support this outcome,” she said.