Kidnapping in Papua New Guinea: Archaeologist Bryce Barker and associates are released

A picture of a man thought to be Bryce Barker and one of his abducted colleagues

After being held hostage by an armed group in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for a week, an archaeologist and two of his colleagues have been freed.

Professor Bryce Barker, an Australian citizen who is from New Zealand, was initially kidnapped at gunpoint while on a field study trip close to Mount Bosavi with three other people.

On Thursday, one of the group was set free.

According to the leader of PNG, the group was freed without having to pay the demanded ransom.

The kidnappers wanted 3.5 million Papua New Guinean Kina ($994,000; £832,000), according to Prime Minister James Marape, but the hostages had been freed "through covert operations.".

He said, "We apologize to the families of those held hostage for ransom.". "Crime is not profitable to criminals. We give God praise that life was preserved. ".

The women held with Professor Barker were identified by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as Jemina Haro, Teppsy Beni, and Cathy Alex, all members of his research team.

Vice-Chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie of the University of Southern Queensland, where Professor Barker is employed, expressed relief over his safety.

She referred to the professor as a "highly regarded archaeologist and a valued colleague" who had conducted research in the area for a considerable amount of time.

On social media, Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister of New Zealand, posted that her nation "welcomes the safe release of hostages in PNG including a NZer.".

She continued by saying, "Tenkiu tru for your leadership and cooperation governments of PNG and Australia," which translates to "thank-you very much" in the PNG creole language Tok Pisin or Pidgin.

The PNG government has been thanked by Australia's foreign minister Penny Wong for "its leadership in securing a safe and peaceful resolution.".

Philip Mehrtens with TPNPB fighters in the recent video footage
In video sent to the BBC, Philip Mehrtens is seen fighting alongside TPNPB members.

It is believed that New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens is still being held captive in nearby Papua, which is under Indonesian control.

After putting down his aircraft in the isolated mountain province of Nduga in Papua, he was abducted more than two weeks ago.

In exchange for independence for Papua, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), a rebel organization that opposes Indonesian rule, has promised to free Mr. Mehrtens.

Separately, Indonesian authorities announced on Friday that they had increased security in the eastern town of Wamena after a riot that was sparked by reports of a kidnapped child claimed 10 lives.

Security personnel reportedly started shooting at locals after people attacked a police station and other structures under the impression that the police were holding the person suspected of being responsible for the alleged kidnapping.

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