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Group incl. Australian prof. taken hostage in Papua New Guinea highlands

An Australian university professor is among a group taken hostage in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, the country’s prime minister said on Monday.

Armed criminals had demanded cash in return for releasing the captives, who included more than one foreign citizen, police said.

The professor is an archaeologist who works for an Australian university and was on a field trip to Fogoma’iu village in the Mount Bosavi region, two sources with knowledge of the incident told Reuters. His companions – local researchers and a project manager – had also been taken hostage, they said.

Police said in a statement that the hostages were being held near Fogoma’iu at the border of Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.

Prime Minister James Marape told local reporters that police and the military were on stand-by and that the government was working with missionaries who were acting as mediators.

“We want those criminals to release those who are held in captivity,” he said in comments broadcast on Australian ABC Television.

The professor has not been publicly identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Deputy Police Commissioner Philip Mitna said in a statement “a number of foreign citizens are among the group”, which included academics and local guides. The criminals had come from Komo in Hela.

A source in Papua New Guinea with direct knowledge told Reuters on Monday morning that the situation was at “a crucial moment”.

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