Papuan churches plea to rebel leader Egianus Kogoya to free NZ pilot

Reverend Benny Giai (left) and Reverend Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman at the Papuan Church Council
Reverend Benny Giai (left) and Reverend Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman at the Papuan Church Council when they announced their appeal for the hostage NZ pilot to be freed. Image: Engel Wally/Jubi

Jubi News in Jayapura

The Papuan Church Council has called on the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) unit led by Egianus Kogoya to immediately release the New Zealand hostage pilot Philip Mehrtens.

The council’s request was delivered during a press conference attended by Reverend Benny Giai as moderator and member Reverend Socratez Sofyan Yoman at the secretariat.

Reverend Yoman said he had written an open letter to Kogoya explaining that hostage-taking events like this were not the first time in Papua. There needed to be a negotiated settlement and not by force.

The plea comes as news media report that Indonesian security forces have surrounded the rebels holding 37-year-old Mehrtens captive, but say they will exercise restraint while negotiations for his release continue.

Mehrtens, a Susi Air pilot, was taken hostage by the TNPB on February 7 after landing in the remote mountainous region of Nduga.

“The council and the international community understand the issue that the TPNPB brings — namely the Papuan struggle [for independence], Reverend Yoman said.

“We know TPNPB are not terrorists. Therefore, in the open letter I asked Egianus to free the New Zealand pilot.”

‘Great commander’
Reverend Yoman also explained that Kogoya was a “great commander”, and the liberation fight had been going on since the 1960s, and it must be seen as the struggle of the entire Papuan people.

This hostage-taking, he said, was psychologically disturbing for the family of the pilot. He asked that the pilot be released.

Reverend Yoman said he was sure that if the pilot was released, Kogoya would also get sympathy from the global community and the people of Indonesia.

His open letter had also been sent to President Joko Widodo.

“There must be a neutral mediator or negotiator trusted by both the TPNPB, the community, and the government to release the pilot. Otherwise, many victims will fall,” said Reverend Yoman.

Reverend Benny Giai said there were a number of root problems that had not been resolved in Papua that triggered the hostage-taking events.

“If the root problems in Papua are not resolved, things like this will keep occurring in the future,” he said.

‘Conditions fuel revenge’
“There are people in the forest carrying weapons while remembering their families who have been killed, these conditions fuel revenge.”

The council invited everybody to view that the hostage-taking occurred several days after the humanitarian pause agreement was withdrawn by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) when it should have continued.

Reverend Giai said he regretted that no negotiation team had been formed by the government to immediately release the pilot.

He was part of a negotiating team resolving a similar crisis in Ilaga in 2010.

At that time, Reverend Giai said, security guarantees were given directly by then Papua police chief I Made Pastika, and “everything went smoothly”.

“In our letter we emphasise that humanity must be respected.

“If the release is not carried out, it is certain that civilians will become victims. Therefore, we ask that the hostage must be released, directly or through a negotiating team,” he said.

Indonesian forces ‘surround rebels’
Meanwhile, RNZ Pacific reports the rebels say they will not release Mehrtens unless Indonesia’s government recognises the region’s independence and withdraws its troops.

Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said security forces had found the location of the group holding the pilot but would refrain from actions that might endanger his life.

“Now, they are under siege and we already know their location. But we must be careful,” Mahfud said, according to local media.

He did not elaborate on the location or what steps Indonesia might take to free the pilot.

Susi Air’s founder and owner Susi Pudjiastuti said 70 percent of its flights in the region had been cancelled, apologising for the disruption of vital supplies to remote, mountainous areas.

“There has to be a big humanitarian impact. There are those who are sick and can’t get medication … and probably food supplies are dwindling,” Pudjiastuti told reporters.

Republished from Jubi with permission.

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