An Australian-based anthropology professor and three Papua New Guinean women researchers are being held captive inside the jungles of the Southern Highlands after they were kidnapped at gunpoint in Fogoma’iu village in the Bosavi LLG.
Four local guides who were also seized were told to jump into the Hegigio river after being released by their captors after they were held for a few hours on Sunday morning.
A local villager (name withheld) spoke exclusively to the Post-Courier last night saying that the other four hostages – three of them reportedly from the University of Papua New Guinea — had been moved a further 10km inland.
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“The number of the gang members have now risen from 15 to 21 with the inclusion of another six men joining the group,” the villager said.
“The group remains adamant that their request for K3.5 million (NZ$1.6 million) remains before the hostages are released.”
The four who were released told locals in harrowing detail how after their release how their arms and legs had been bound with the professor threatened at gunpoint.
Fogoma’iu villagers said on Sunday morning at 2am that the home the research team were sleeping in at their village, a few kilometres from Mt Bosavi, was surrounded by several armed men.
The group was taken away in the early hours of the morning.
Deputy Police Commissioner Philip Mitna said the armed criminals, reportedly from Komo in Hela province, were returning from Kamusi when they had sighted the victims and taken them hostage.
On Sunday morning, Prime Minister James Marape met with PNG’s Security Council and was briefed about the kidnapping and ransom demand of the group.
“This is the first time a ransom is attached to a hostage situation like this and I will make further statements in due time,” said Deputy Commissioner Mitna.
“This is the very first time and we are treating this very, very seriously; we don’t want it to be a precedent for the future. We are working with authorities concerned, at the moment the government is staying out of this picture in terms of negotiating on the ground.”
The Australian and New Zealand High Commissions in Port Moresby have both stated they were “aware of this situation but for privacy reasons no further information will be provided”.
In a short reply to questions by the Post-Courier, the PNG Defence Force said: “Yes, PNGDF is fully aware of it. Since, it’s within the context of operations, no comments/statement will be disclosed.”
Logging camp raids
The Post-Courier has uncovered that the armed group — now numbering 21 — had tried in two separate attempts to rob two logging sites in the Middle Fly area earlier this month.
However, both attempts were unsuccessful. The group left Middle Fly and trekked 101km into Southern Highlans Province where it is alleged they came across the group of researchers.
Government and Security Council negotiators are continuing their communication with the armed men in a bid to secure their release.
- Both ABC News and the PNG Post-Courier have chosen not to name the captives given the sensitivity over this hostage situation.
Republished from the PNG Post-Courier with permission.