Hostages freed in Papua New Guinea after a week in captivity

New Zealand professor among four people kidnapped by an armed group demanding ransom

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape had warned the kidnappers they had 'nowhere to hide'. AFP
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A professor from New Zealand and two other hostages have been freed in Papua New Guinea, the country's Prime Minister said on Sunday, a week after they were kidnapped by an armed group in the country's rugged highlands.

"It took us a while but the last three have been successfully returned," Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said.

The hostages were among four people kidnapped in a densely forested region last Sunday. One woman, a Papua New Guinea citizen, was freed on Wednesday.

National Police Commissioner David Manning said at the time that “from the information that we have received, the remaining three captives are in reasonable health".

The New Zealand hostage lives and works in Australia as a university professor, police said, while the other two people held were reported to be local university students.

The group's captors initially issued a ransom demand of roughly $1 million — an enormous sum in one of the Pacific region's poorest nations — before lowering the figure and abandoning a 24-hour deadline.

Mr Marape had urged the kidnappers to free the hostages, saying more than 13 of them had already been identified.

“You have nowhere to hide. All of you and your names and your faces are being profiled as we speak,” he said.

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 region has seen an increase in violence among rival groups and an influx of weapons.

Kidnapping for ransom is an uncommon crime in Papua New Guinea, a tribal society of nine million people who are mostly subsistence farmers.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: February 26, 2023, 7:06 AM