Papua rebels release videos showing kidnapped NZ pilot alive
March 10, 2023 By Alfian Kartono And Edna Tarigan, The Associated Press
JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Papua province released more photos and videos Friday appearing to show the New Zealand pilot they took hostage last month alive.
In a video distributed Friday by rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom, a man wearing a blue jacket is identified as Philip Mark Mehrtens of Christchurch, a pilot for Indonesian aviation company Susi Air who was abducted by independence fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement. He sat at a wooden block on the ground surrounded by separatists holding various weapons, with the morning star flag that is a separatist symbol.
Mehrtens was instructed to read a statement from a piece of paper he held. He said foreign pilots weren’t allowed to work or fly in Papua until it is independent, and that the Free Papua Movement requested the United Nations mediate independence negotiations.
The video distributed by the rebel group is part of their propaganda, regional military commander Brig. Gen. Juinta Omboh Sembiring said Friday.
“It strengthens our analysis of the condition of the pilot, that the pilot is still alive. And we will continue to try to find and save him,” Sembiring said. He said military forces have mapped out and stopped some of the group’s members in the region.
In a separate video, Mehrtens delivered a message to his family asking them to not worry too much, as he has been taken care of and had enough food and water. He also requested his salary be sent directly to his wife.
Another video shows Egianus Kogoya, the leader of the separatist group reading out demands.
“We ask the U.N. Security Council to mediate the armed conflict between West Papua Liberation Army and the Indonesian Military in Papua,” Kogoya said in the video.
The group also asked New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the U.S., France, China and Russia to stop supporting military cooperation to Indonesia.
On Feb. 6, the West Papua Liberation Army stormed Mehrtens’ single-engine plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in Paro in remote Nduga district. The plane, carrying five passengers, was scheduled to pick up 15 construction workers who had been building a health center in Paro. The rebels released all five passengers because they are Indigenous Papuans, Sambom had said.
Flying is the only practical way of accessing many parts of the mountainous area.
The 15 construction workers, who were rescued Feb. 8 by security forces, came from other Indonesian islands to build the health center in Paro. They had taken refuge in a priest’s house in the village for several days after rebels threatened to kill them.
Sambom sent videos and photos Feb. 14 to The Associated Press that showed a group of gunmen, led by Kogoya, setting fire to the plane on the runway.
Separatists consider civilian workers to be outsiders who sometimes spy for the Indonesian government.
The Indonesian Military in a February statement said the military officers are taking the soft approach by doing negotiation between the separatist group and religious and community leaders. But military officers are ready for selected and directed measurable legal actions.
Sembiring said Friday he will support the efforts from religious and community leaders to negotiate with the group.
Conflicts between Indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region. Conflict in the region has risen in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.
Tarigan reported from Jakarta, Indonesia