Papua New Guinea police say 4 being held by criminals

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Papua New Guinea security forces are prepared to use lethal force to free a foreign national and three citizens of the South Pacific island nation from armed criminals, the police commissioner said.

The foreign national and three Papua New Guinea university students were “being held by criminals in the border region of South Highlands, Hela and Western Provinces," the police commissioner, David Manning, said in a statement dated Monday and received by The Associated Press early Tuesday.

The foreign national is a New Zealand citizen who lives in Australia and works as an archaeologist at an Australian university, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. The media outlet said it was not releasing the archaeologist's name due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Manning said the safety of the hostages was the top priority of security forces who “are operating within their set rules of engagement in dealing with these criminals.”

“Our specialized security force personnel will use whatever means necessary against the criminals, up to and including the use of lethal force, in order to provide for the safety and security of the people being held,” Manning added.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Tuesday in an email that it was aware of the case but would not provide additional information for privacy reasons.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade declined to comment.