NOOSA - Papua New Guinea's prime minister James Marape says his government is "at work" trying to free five hostages seized by a 20-strong armed gang yesterday.
The captives are believed to include an Australian archaeology professor and three students.
It was first reported that a larger group had been captured, but it seems local guides have been freed.
Marape refused to identify the location of the kidnapping, but other reports suggest it was in the western part of the Highlands region.
He said the government had made “good inroads” in negotiations, in which it is being assisted by “secondary sources” – believed to be local villagers and missionaries.
“I am positive, I am optimistic, I am prayerful that we get the five out,” he said.
The kidnappers have demanded a ransom, believed to be K$3.5 million kina ($A1.4 million).
“We do not encourage ransoms,” Marape said, “but we’re treating this very diligently and carefully because life is at risk.”
But he directed a stronger message to the hostage-takers.
“Do yourself and do your country a favour by releasing the people concerned.
“There is no place to hide.”
At another press conference last night, PNG police commissioner David Manning said a "delicate" rescue operation is underway. He referred to the hostage-takers as "opportunists".
It was also revealed that the captors had withdrawn a 24-hour deadline for the group’s release and also substantially reduced their demand for cash.
“Our specialised security force personnel will use whatever means necessary against the criminals, up to and including the use of lethal force,” Manning said.
It was later reported that the well-armed gang had infiltrated a village only to be confronted by police, who observed they had the hostages with them.
It need hardly be said that social media was busy providing its own view of events.
“After New Zealand pilot, rebels in Papua New Guinean kidnap Australian professor,” conflated a site claiming to be ‘First Post Headline’.
Australia's foreign affairs department had made no comment when this article went to press.
Meanwhile PNG Attitude’s Twitter feed will keep you posted on developments.
Sources: Reuters (Kirsty Needham), Agence France Press, London Evening Standard (Michael Howie), Cairns Post, AAP (Dominic Gianinni), Facebook