INDONESIA: Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province have posted pictures and videos of a man they say are the New Zealand pilot they kidnapped last week. Philip Mehrtens was reportedly kidnapped by the insurgents after landing his single-engine Susi Air plane to drop off five passengers in the remote region of Nduga on February 7.
The West Papua National Liberation Army, the military branch of the Free Papua Movement, assaulted Mehrtens’ single-engine plane as it touched down on a tiny runway in Paro, in the isolated Nduga area, and kidnapped him. Mehrtens was a pilot for the Indonesian airline Susi Air.
According to Namia Gwijangge, the Nduga district chief, the five-passenger plane was due to pick up 15 construction workers who were building a health centre in Paro after being threatened with death by separatist rebels commanded by Egianus Kogoya.
Rebel spokeswoman Sebby Sambom said all five passengers were released because they were Papuans.
The AP received footage and pictures from Sambom that showed a gang of gunmen headed by Kogoya igniting the plane on the runway. As part of their fight “to free Papua from Indonesia,” Kogoya said they had taken the pilot hostage while he was sitting in the plane’s cockpit.
In another video, Mehrtens was standing in a forest with a group of individuals carrying weapons, spears, and bows and arrows around him. The separatists told the man to declare, “Indonesia must recognize Papua is independent,” in a third video.
The government is trying everything to convince the rebels to free Mehrtens, according to the coordinating minister for political, security, and legal affairs, Mohammad Mahfud, since “the priority is the safety of the hostage.”
In a video message made late on Tuesday, Mahfud declared that taking civilians hostage for whatever purpose was unacceptable. The greatest way, he claimed, to guarantee hostage safety is through persuasion, but “the government does not rule out other efforts.”
He emphasized that the government considers Papua to be a part of Indonesia.
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