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HomeNature NewsKidnapping of scientists threatens subject analysis in Papua New Guinea

Kidnapping of scientists threatens subject analysis in Papua New Guinea

Four people cross the tarmac at an airport.

Bryce Barker (second proper), who was held hostage by an armed group in Papua New Guinea for greater than every week, is escorted from a aircraft after his launch.Credit score: STR/AFP/Getty

Scientists in Australia say fieldwork and worldwide analysis collaboration in Papua New Guinea are in jeopardy after 4 members of an archaeological expedition have been kidnapped within the highlands area of the nation final month. The hostages have been later launched, however researchers say that the incident may enhance the price of safety and threat assessments, and that universities will in all probability be much less prepared to ship workers to doubtlessly harmful places overseas in future.

The 4 people — Jemina Haro, Cathy Alex and Teppsy Beni from Papua New Guinea and Bryce Barker, who’s a New Zealand citizen based mostly in Australia — have been taken hostage at gunpoint by armed bandits in mid-February whereas doing archaeological fieldwork. After a fancy set of negotiations involving police, safety personnel and authorities officers from Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, one of many hostages was launched on 22 February, and the opposite three have been ultimately let out on 26 February. The bandits had reportedly been energetic within the space for a while, and had performed armed assaults and robberies in close by villages. The highlands of Papua New Guinea are recognized for violence and civil unrest, with quite a few international locations warning in opposition to journey to the world.

Papua New Guinea is a crucial location for analysis in lots of disciplines, together with archaeology, palaeontology, geology and the life sciences, and the incident is inflicting concern amongst scientists who had supposed to hold out fieldwork within the nation. Palaeontologist Gavin Prideaux at Flinders College in Adelaide, Australia, postponed a deliberate 2022 subject journey to fossil websites in Papua New Guinea due to political unrest throughout the nationwide elections. That fieldwork was presupposed to go forward this yr, however Prideaux is unsure about what the kidnapping will imply for his approval to journey within the area. He’s planning to speak to colleagues in Papua New Guinea to evaluate the specter of kidnapping.

Michael Westaway, a bioarchaeologist on the College of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, is worried the hostage incident may make universities and funding organizations reluctant to assist analysis in Papua New Guinea. Safety is already a excessive precedence for researchers travelling to the world, however “one thing like this hasn’t occurred earlier than in order that’s a little bit of a shock to the system”.

The kidnapping may have an effect on a venture he’s concerned in with colleagues on the College of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby. They’ve been engaged on the Papuan coast finding out an extinct group of hominins known as the Denisovans, and are in search of funding for additional analysis within the space, together with coaching native college students in archaeology and palaeoanthropology. The venture is to be led by Jason Kariwiga, a PhD scholar from Papua New Guinea who’s at the moment based mostly on the College of Queensland. “There’s this nice cohort of Papuan college students coming by way of and it’s a very thrilling time for archaeology in Papua New Guinea,” Westaway says.

The venture is deliberate for a much less remoted a part of the highlands than the area the place the hostages have been taken. “It’s a unique state of affairs, however I nonetheless assume universities are such risk-averse locations that they’ll have plenty of concern for this occasion,” Westaway says.

He has contacted safety firms to investigate about the price of personnel to accompany the fieldwork groups and to watch their security every day. “We now have to issue these form of issues in,” he says. “If we don’t, I can think about the college would in all probability really feel uncomfortable about supporting a staff like that going into that form of area.”

Nature contacted a number of Australian universities that ship researchers to Papua New Guinea. The College of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba — the establishment at which one of many kidnapped scientists, archaeologist Bryce Barker, is predicated — stated in an announcement to Nature that it hadn’t modified its fieldwork coverage after the incident. The college “examines every analysis journey on a case-by-case foundation and can proceed with that method”, it stated.

The Australian Nationwide College in Canberra, which is house to the Pacific Institute — a hub for analysis within the Pacific area, together with Papua New Guinea — says it makes use of recommendation and warnings from the Australian authorities’s Division of International Affairs and Commerce (DFAT) when making choices about journeys overseas for analysis. “If DFAT advises in opposition to journey to a selected nation, journey is simply permitted underneath distinctive circumstances,” says a spokesperson for the college.

The division at the moment advises Australians to train a excessive diploma of warning when travelling to Papua New Guinea, and to rethink journey to sure areas, together with some highland areas. It lists kidnapping among the many potential dangers for guests.



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