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Return to Australia as an archaeologist hostage to an armed group in Papua

A New Zealand archaeologist who was held hostage for a week by an armed group in Papua New Guinea, where he was conducting research in a remote jungle, returned to Australia on Monday, where he was working, according to an air traffic analysis by the FlyRadar website.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marab said police were “relentlessly” searching for their abductors.

Archaeologist Bryce Barker and two Papua New Guinean guides he worked with were freed on Sunday after a week of intense negotiations between the armed group and Papua police.

The three former hostages, who were “obviously traumatized” by the kidnapping, did not appear to be physically injured, Mr Marab said.

Professor Barker, who works at the Australian University of Southern Queensland, stayed in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, from Sunday to Monday before leaving for Australia. He landed in Toowoomba, where the university is located, according to the Flightradar website.

University of Southern Queensland Vice-Chancellor Geraldine McKenzie said colleagues were relieved by the release of the “highly valued” professor.

The “highly respected” archaeologist was abducted on February 19 while on a research trip to Papua New Guinea, where he had been working for years, he added.

The kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars, a large sum for this country among the poorest in the region. The hostages later reduced their demands, but the amount was not disclosed.

The initial amount was not paid, the Prime Minister argued, citing “secret operations” to deliver the trio.

A fourth hostage, a Papua New Guinean from the same group of academics, was released on Wednesday.

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Papua’s authorities lack influence in the mountainous, forested interior, where tribal conflicts and arms smuggling have increased in recent years.