Papuan separatists armed with bows and arrows surround captured New Zealand pilot in video

Philip Mehrtens says ‘I will remain captive for my life’ if insurgent group’s demands are not met

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 15 February 2023 12:17 GMT
Video shows captured New Zealand pilot surrounded by armed Papuan separatists

Rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua region have released a video and pictures of the New Zealand pilot who was abducted and taken hostage a week ago.

Philip Mehrtens was kidnapped after he landed his plane at Paro Airport in the remote highlands of the Nduga regency in Papua, a region that is at the heart of a decades-long war for independence.

He was taken hostage by the soldiers of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the insurgent group of the Free Papua Organisation.

Mr Mehrtens was purportedly seen in videos surrounded by a dozen of fighters, some armed with assault rifles and bows and arrows. The video also showed one of the fighters raising the “Morning Star” flag, a symbol of Papuan independence.

"The Papuan military that has taken me captive to fight for Papuan independence, they ask for the Indonesian military to go home to Indonesia and if not, I will remain captive for my life," Mr Mehrtens said in the video, reading what seemed to be a prepared statement.

Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the TPNPB, said that the pilot was in good health and that he was collateral in a political dispute.

The group has demanded independence for Papua in a bargain for the pilot.

Papua, the world’s third-largest island country and a resource-rich region, was formerly a Dutch colony before it was controversially brought under Indonesian control in a widely criticised vote overseen by the United Nations in 1969.

Its easternmost provinces have been battered with a low-level battle for independence but the conflict has escalated significantly since 2018 with pro-independence fighters conducting deadlier attacks.

TPNPB members reportedly said last week that they were moving him deeper into the jungles and he would be treated “humanely” without harm.

The 37-year-old Christchurch native was kidnapped after his small passenger plane belonging to Indonesia’s Susi Air landed in Nduga with five passengers.

But shortly after landing, the rebels stormed into the plane and kidnapped him to use him for negotiations on the longstanding dispute.

The Free Papua Movement’s Diplomatic Council sent a letter to the New Zealand government, writing down their demand.

Its head of foreign affairs Akouboo Amatus Douw said Mr Mehrtens was lucky that he was not killed instantly after flying into the region.

“We also respect this family, how they’re feeling,” Mr Douw said. “We say sorry but the family need to understand about the suffering of West Papuan people….more than 60 years.”

They are demanding New Zealand to end its military ties with Indonesia. It has also asked the UN to force Indonesia to withdraw from Papua.

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