Wenda calls on West Papuan rebels to release kidnapped NZ pilot

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United Liberation Movement for West Papua leader Benny Wenda
United Liberation Movement for West Papua president Benny Wenda (left) being interviewed by a PNG journalist, Henry Yamo, on a previous visit to New Zealand. Image: Del Abcede/Asia Pacific Report

RNZ Pacific

A West Papuan independence movement leader, Benny Wenda, says the release of New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens held hostage by armed rebels is out of his hands.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) fighters kidnapped Mehrtens on February 7 after he landed a small commercial passenger plane in Nduga regency.

The group then burned the Indonesian-owned Susi Air plane and demanded the New Zealand government negotiate directly for Merhtens’ release.

Exiled Wenda is president of the peaceful United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

He told RNZ Pacific he did not condone the actions of the liberation army rebels and had called for them to release the pilot peacefully.

He said he sympathised with the New Zealand people and Merhtens’ family but insisted the situation was a result of Indonesia’s refusal to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit West Papua.

“Because the place where it’s actually happening is where hundreds of thousands [of indigenous Papuans] have been displaced from 2018 up to now — in Nduga, Intan Jaya, Mybrat and also Oksibil,” Wenda said.

‘Warning to Indonesia’
“So this happening right now is a warning to Indonesia to let the UN High Commissioner visit which they have been ignoring these last three years.”

Philip Mehrtens
Philip Mehrtens, the New Zealand pilot taken hostage at Paro, Nduga regency, and his aircraft set on fire. Image: Jubi News

“We are not enemies [with New Zealand]. We are very good,” Wenda said.

“New Zealand is a very strong supporter of West Papua.

“I do not think the [TPNPB] group can harm the pilot unless Indonesia uses the situation to do harm. That is my concern.”

He said Indonesia should consider TPNPB’s demands.

Wenda is leading a delegation from the ULMWP that is currently in Fiji ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The group has observer status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and is lobbying to become a full member.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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