An Australian archaeology professor has been kidnapped at gunpoint by a local gang from a village in Papua New Guinea’s remote Southern Highlands.
The Queensland professor and three local university graduates were abducted on Sunday morning, February 19, by around 20 armed ‘thugs’ who are demanding a ransom of 3.5 million Kina ($1.43m AUD).
The kidnapping happened two weeks after armed separatists in West Papua abducted a New Zealand pilot, who Papua police now believe they have located and have sent in a team to rescue.
The professor had only returned to the tiny village of Fogoma’iu in the Mount Bosavi region early this year after previously undertaking a project to study ancient remains on the Great Papuan Plateau.
The professor, who is in his 50s and his fellow hostages are reportedly considered ‘safe at the moment’ as the PNG Government negotiates their rescue, saying the kidnappers would be treated ‘fairly’ if the captives were released unharmed.
But if not, police would ‘use lethal force’, PNG’s Police Commissioner David Manning said in a statement.
Describing the gunmen as ‘opportunists’ and the situation as ‘delicate’, Mr. Manning he said ‘our specialised security force personnel will use whatever means necessary against the criminals, up to and including the use of lethal force, in order to provide for the safety and security of the people being held’.
He said the abductors were being offered ‘a way out’ and would face court if they released the hostages, ‘but failure to comply and resisting arrest could cost these criminals their lives.’
The Australian scientist is reportedly trying to argue down the ransom sum, according to volunteer community development worker Sally Lloyd who said he was ‘keen to have the matter resolved obviously’, The Australian reported.
Local missionaries who had spoken to the professor by satellite phone had confirmed to the PNG government that he and the other hostages were alive.