NZ hostages freed unhurt

By Louisa Cleave

Five New Zealanders were among more than 50 meat workers held hostage at a Vanuatu abattoir yesterday by a gang of colleagues armed with machetes and metal bars.

Between 30 and 40 armed men entered the abattoir on the outskirts of Port Vila about 9am local time [11am NZT] and held 45 local workers, the New Zealanders and an Australian hostage for six hours.

The hostage takers were union members who have been locked in a dispute with the Vanuatu Government for more than a year over work conditions.

The drama ended when the Army signed an agreement to ensure continued negotiations, according to the Vanuatu National Workers Union.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said one of the New Zealand workers and the Australian were released before the stand-off was resolved "without force".

The remaining four New Zealanders contacted the High Commission after their release. No one was injured.

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