Unsettling images of a New Zealand pilot who is being held captive by a fiercely armed rebel group in the isolated Indonesian province of Papua have surfaced.
After the rebels attacked his single-engine jet on February 7 just after it touched down on a tiny runway in Paro in the rural Nduga area, Phillip Mehrtens, a pilot for Indonesian airline Susu Air, was taken hostage last week.
After seizing Mehrtens, the separatist rebels from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), the military wing of the movement, set fire to his aircraft on the runway.
Recently, pictures have surfaced showing Mehrtens surrounded by a bunch of rebels brandishing rifles, spears, bows, and arrows in a forest.
The pilot, who is from Christchurch, won’t be freed until Indonesian sovereignty over the Papua province has been established, according to rebel leader Egianus Kogoya. Thoughts that Mehrtens might not be freed arose as a result of the Indonesian government’s steadfast stance and declaration that Papua will “forever remain a legitimate part” of Indonesia.
It was said that Mehrtens had threatened to kill the 15 construction workers who were constructing a health center in the area before he made his plane, which had five passengers on board, land on a short airfield in Paro.
Nduga district leader Namia Gwijangge, who was a passenger, said that the rebels were enraged by the rebel plot to evacuate the employees and as a result, they set the jet on fire and kidnapped the pilot. We regret this event very much.
Because they are native Papuans, the rebels released all five passengers, according to rebel spokeswoman Sebby Sambom.
On Tuesday, Sambom posted videos and images that showed a gang of shooters, including Kogoya, igniting the plane on the runway.
The separatists told the man to repeat, “Indonesia must accept Papua as independent,” in a popular video.
In the video, Kogoya is heard saying, “I took him hostage for Papua independence, not for food or drink.” Mehrtens is seen standing next to Kogoya. As long as Indonesia doesn’t use its weapons, either from the air or on the ground, he will be secure with me.
The government is doing everything possible to convince the rebels to free Mehrtens, according to Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Security, and Legal Affairs Mohammad Mahfud, because “the hostage’s safety is the priority.”
In a video statement late on Tuesday, Mahfud stated, “Taking civilians hostage for whatever purpose is reprehensible.” The greatest way, he claimed, to guarantee hostage safety is through persuasion, but “the administration does not rule out alternative methods.”
He emphasized that Papua is considered by the government to be a part of Indonesia. Mahfud declared, “Papua would always be a legal part of the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.”
We are aware of the images and videos going around, but we won’t be making any additional comments at this time, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated in a statement on Wednesday.
In order to establish communication and engage in negotiations with the rebels, Papua police chief Mathius Fakhiri told reporters in Jayapura, the provincial capital, that they are attempting to free the pilot by enlisting the help of several community leaders, including tribal and religious figures.
Benny Wenda, the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), released a statement outlining his demands on February 9.
The ULMWP Executive affirms and guarantees the New Zealand government and the rest of the world that we are [using] a peaceful, diplomatic approach. Wenda the president penned.
Our plan is very clear: we are working peacefully to achieve West Papua’s national liberation through diplomatic and political channels.
The rebels want Mr. Mehrtens released in exchange for the withdrawal of Indonesian forces from West Papua, a UN inquiry into alleged human rights abuses, an independence vote, and the revocation of “Special Autonomy.”
Wenda continued, “The kidnapping of a foreign pilot automatically draws international media attention to West Papua.
The only way to reach a peaceful conclusion is through a referendum, which is why the international community must pressure Indonesia to discuss one in order to put an end to the violence in West Papua.
Until the entire world responds to our cries for freedom, we will persevere in peace.
However, a Liberation Army spokeswoman also issued a warning to other nations and regions, including Australia.
According to a statement by the West Papuan Liberation Army’s secretary, Sebby Sambom, “[The West Papuan Liberation Army] views New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, America, and Europe, all are culpable.”
“From 1963 till the present, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have supported the Indonesian government, trained the Indonesian National Police, and provided weaponry to kill us West Papuans.” They need to answer for their actions.