Indigenous Papuan negotiators walk to forest hideout to seek release of pilot

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Hostage NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens pictured with his armed West Papuan rebel captors
Hostage NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens pictured with his armed West Papuan rebel captors . . . hopes for his negotiated release. Image: TPNPB/Jubi News

Jubi News in Jayapura

An indigenous Papuan negotiation team has traversed rugged highlands forests in the Indonesian-ruled Melanesian province in search of the New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens, who was taken hostage by rebels last week.

The crisis over the captive pilot held by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) led by Egianus Kogoya has entered day eight.

Papua Police chief Inspector-General Mathius Fakhiri said his party had sent a negotiation team consisting of indigenous people and several influential figures in Nduga regency to meet the armed group.

Inspector Fakhiri said the team had walked to the hideout location where Mehrtens was being held hostage.

“Please give us time as the team went there on foot. It will take one to two days to cross the river and pass through such difficult topography,” he said in a written statement.

“We hope they can arrive safely.”

On February 7, the TPNPB rebels set fire to a Susi Air plane with call sign PK-BVY that landed at an airstrip in Paro district.

“TPNPB has officially released photos and videos with the New Zealand pilot, and the pilot is in good health,” said Sambom

Local government help
TPNPB also claimed to have captured and held hostage pilot Mehrtens.

Fakhiri hoped that communication could be established between the negotiation team and Kogoya’s group so that Mehrtens could be released immediately.

A video showing hostage pilot Philip Mehrtens with his armed West Papuan rebel captors.  Source: Jubi News

He also hopes that the involvement of the Nduga Regency local government in the search for Philip Mark Mehrtens would be “fruitful”.

“We asked for help from the Nduga Regent and his people because they know the Nduga area best. They are ready to help, and there are also lawmakers who joined the team to negotiate with the TPNPB,” Inspector Fakhiri said.

Meanwhile, Susi Air operations director Melinasary said that the burning of the aircraft and the hostage taking of Philip Mark Mehrtens would not force the airline to withdraw from Papua.

She said Susi Air had been assisting development in Papua since 2006, pioneering flights and providing health assistance and medicines for the community.

“With this incident, we will not stop flying in the Papua region. But please give us protection,” Melinasary said.

Melinasary added that Susi Air would provide support in the search for pilot Mehrtens.

Logistics help
“We have provided flights for the search process and logistical assistance in the form of food in the search for our pilot,” she said.

On Tuesday, TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom released photos and videos of the Susi Air plane burning.

Sambom also released a video showing Philip Mehrtens with TPNPB Ndugama leader Egianus Kogoya.

“TPNPB has officially released photos and videos with the New Zealand pilot, and the pilot is in good health,” said Sambom

He also said that the pilot was a guarantee of political negotiations between TPNPB and Indonesia.

In the video circulating, Philip Mehrtens stood among TPNPB members and stated that Indonesia must recognise Papua’s independence.

Also in the video, Egianus Kogoya said his party would release the pilot if Papua was recognised as a free nation.

“Indonesia must admit that Papua is independent. We Papuans have long been independent,” Kogoya said.

Republished from Jubi News with permission

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