Search for NZ pilot taken hostage by Papua rebels extended, says Indonesia

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NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens held hostage by West Papuan rebels
NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens held hostage by West Papuan rebels . . . search for his location now covers 36,000 sq km. Image: RNZ Pacific/FB

RNZ Pacific

The authorities in Indonesia’s Papua region say the search for a New Zealand pilot taken hostage by West Papua Liberation Movement freedom fighters more than two months ago has been extended.

Philip Mehrtens, a pilot for Susi Air, was taken hostage in the remote Nduga district on February 7.

According to Antara News, Senior Commissioner Faizal Rahmadani said they were now also looking for the group in Yahukimo and Puncak districts.

Commissioner Rahmadani said several efforts have been carried out to rescue the pilot, including involving a negotiating team comprising community leaders, the publication reported.

However, the negotiation has not yielded any results.

The search now covers about 36,000 sq km.

Commissioner Rahmadani said the safety of Captain Merthens was the priority for his team.

‘No foreign pilots’ call
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) has released images and videos of Mehrtens with them since he was captured.

In the video, which was sent to RNZ Pacific, Mehrtens was instructed to read a statement saying “no foreign pilots are to work and fly” into Highlands Papua until Papua was independent.

He made another demand for West Papua independence from Indonesia later in the statement.

Mehrtens was surrounded by more than a dozen people, some of them armed with weapons.

Previously, a TPNPB spokesperson said they were waiting for a response from the New Zealand government to negotiate the release of Mehrtens.

In February, United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leader Benny Wenda called for the rebels to release Mehrtens.

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 Papua.

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

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