Videos released from NZ pilot hostage in Papua
Three new videos have been released featuring a New Zealand pilot taken hostage by separatists in Indonesia’s Papua region. They call for the United Nations to mediate in the conflict in the resource-rich region. Philip Mehrtens, who works for the domestic Susi Air service, was abducted by the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) last month after landing at an airstrip in the Nduga district.
The conflict began on February 7, when separatist fighters took a New Zealand pilot hostage and set fire to a small commercial plane after it made a landing in a remote highland area. The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and stated that the pilot would not be released until the Indonesian government acknowledged the independence of West Papua.
The first proof of life footage after he was taken captive by Papua insurgents came a week later. The video, released by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), only showed that the pilot was alive and well. The three new videos contain demands for action.
In one video, Mehrtens is seen sitting in a jungle clearing surrounded by men. Some of the militants have guns and two are holding bows. The pilot is wearing beige trousers, a blue jacket, and a camouflage hat. He read out a prepared statement.
“OPM requests the United Nations to mediate between Papua and Indonesia to work towards Papuan independence. No foreign pilots are permitted to work and fly in Papua until Papua is independent”
It is unclear where and when the videos were taken, but an OPM spokesperson said they were shot on March 6. Another video showed separatists calling for an end to military cooperation between Indonesia and several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia.
“Propaganda” is how the Indonesian military commander in Papua described the videos. He stated that authorities were still looking for Mehrtens. He said Mehrtens’ release would be negotiated through dialogue, with law enforcement as a last resort. The commander blew off OPM’s demand for UN mediation.
“There is no negotiation with terrorists by the state.”
Meanwhile, Mehrtens is caught in the middle, a pawn in a political battle. In videos, he asked his employers to give any salary he is owed to his family for food and bills. He told his family that his captors had provided him with enough food, water, medicine, and warm clothes.
“Try not to worry about me. I am being taken care of as well as can be expected given the situation. Hopefully, we can be together soon”
Since Papua was integrated into Indonesia following a UN-brokered vote in 1969, there has been an ongoing conflict in the region. Critics argue that the vote was not fair. Since 2018, insurgents have launched more frequent and more lethal assaults, though it is uncommon for foreigners to be kidnapped in the area.
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