Archaeologist freed after ‘covert’ rescue mission in Papua New Guinea to return to Australia

Three hostages spent more than a week in captivity before being released

Namita Singh
Monday 27 February 2023 08:08 GMT
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An Australia-based archaeologist and two Papua New Guinea (PNG) nationals have been released from captivity after a successful “covert” rescue operation, Papua New Guinea’s prime minister James Marape said.

Bryce Barker, a New Zealand national based at Australia’s University of Southern Queensland (USQ), was taken hostage by an armed group on 19 February while conducting field work along with two locals – Jemina Haro and Teppsy Beni – at Mount Bosavi in Papua New Guinea.

The three researchers were held hostage for more than a week in a remote Highlands region by an armed group demanding a cash ransom.

Their release comes three days after a woman who was taken hostage by the group was let go.

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

Professor Barker had been working in the country’s highlands as part of an ongoing archaeological research programme with USQ that focused on early human migration across the Great Papuan Plateau, reported ABC News.

According to the report, the researchers were abducted and taken hostage at gunpoint by a criminal gang of 20 from Hela Province. The ransom demand was reportedly conveyed to the authorities using Professor Barker’s satellite phone.

Sharing details of the operation involving their release, Mr Marape said they were secured “through covert operations” without paying the $993,000 ransom demanded by the abductors.

“We apologize to the families of those taken as hostages for ransom, it took us a while but the last three has been successfully returned through covert operations (sic),” he wrote on Facebook.

“To criminals, there is no profit in crime,” he said.

“It was a random, opportunistic crime that took place, but something that I condemned in the various strongest terms possible,” Mr Marape told reporters.

A significantly smaller ransom, however, was paid, reported the Associated Press, citing local media reports.

The prime minister told the media that local law enforcement authorities were 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,” he said.

USQ vice chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie said on Sunday that the university was relieved to hear their much-loved colleague and his research team was 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,” professor 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.”

Additional reporting from agencies

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