Police had been negotiating with the hostage takers, who initially demanded a ransom of US$1 million – an enormous sum in one of the Pacific’s poorest nations – before dropping the asking price and abandoning a 24-hour deadline.
Australia’s and New Zealand’s foreign ministers welcomed the news and thanked Papua New Guinea authorities for their work.
“I welcome news from Papua New Guinea that all hostages have been released and will soon be reunited with their families,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.
Marape said the hostages had been freed after “covert operations” and the original ransom demand had not been paid – but did not provide further details.
“We apologise to the families of those taken as hostages for ransom,” Marape said.
“To criminals, there is no profit in crime. We thank God that life was protected.”
Police were now searching for the armed group, he added.
Barker’s Australian colleagues were “relieved” by the release of the “much-loved” and “highly-regarded” professor, University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie said.
The archaeologist had many years of experience working in the Pacific nation and was on a research trip when he was seized, Mackenzie said.
Papua New Guinea’s highlands are a sprawling expanse of jungle-cloaked hills where the central government and security forces have little sway.
In recent years, the regions have seen an increase in tribal warfare and modern weapons.