OPM call for PNG’s James Marape as negotiator for NZ pilot’s safe passage

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OPM leader Jeffrey Bomanak
OPM leader Jeffrey Bomanak . . . plea for a "peaceful resolution" to the NZ hostage pilot crisis. Image: OPM

Asia Pacific Report

Free Papua Organisation (OPM) leader Jeffrey Bomanak has appealed for Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape to become a “neutral intermediary” to negotiate between the Indonesian government and the West Papuan rebels holding a New Zealand pilot hostage for his release.

He has called in a statement today for the safe transfer of 37-year-old Philip Mehrtens, a flight captain working for Indonesia’s Susi Air who was seized at a remote airstrip in the central highlands on February 7, to a “secure location in Papua New Guinea”.

If Prime Minister Marape could not “come to the assistance of Captain Mehrtens”, Bomanak requested another PNG politician instead “because we are both Melanesian people”.

The OPM statement today 27May23
The OPM statement today on the demand for West Papuan independence talks and “safe passage” for the hostage NZ pilot. Image: OPM

“We would be very comfortable with [MPs] Belden Namah, Lhuter Wengge, Gary Juffa, or Powes Parkop. We trust them.”

In February, the PNG government successfully resolved a hostage crisis by negotiating freedom for three captives, including a NZ professor living in Australia.

This was one of three points cited in the OPM statement needed to “end the hostage crisis peacefully”.

“However, more miracles will be required for Indonesia to cease the genocide of my people, the destruction of our land and homes, and the plunder of our spectacular natural resources,” Bomanak added.

Two other conditions
The other two OPM conditions for a peaceful resolution are:

  • The Indonesian government must “open up” and talk to the OPM as the official political body of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB); and
  • Cease air and ground bombing and combat operations, and withdraw all Indonesian defence and security forces from all conflict areas.

Clarifying a TPNPB video released yesterday that purported to show Mehrtens saying that if negotiations on independence for West Papua did not start within two months he was at risk of being shot by the rebels seeking independence for the Melanesian region, Bomanak blamed the Indonesian authorities over the impasse.

“If the Indonesian government continues to carry out military operations and the New Zealand government does not take persuasive steps, the OPM will not be held responsible when something happens to the life of Captain pilot Philip Mehrtens as a result of the ongoing air and ground combat operations by Indonesia’s defence forces.”

Bomanak called on the Jakarta government to have compassion, adding: “Unfortunately, when there are six decades of Indonesia’s crimes against my people, to think Jakarta can act in any way compassionate is almost [an] impossible expectation. It would be a miracle!”

The OPM fighters have been struggling in a low-level insurgency for independence from Indonesia since 1969.

However, the struggle has gained a new intensity in the past five years with more sophisticated weapons and strategies. This has coincided with mounting peaceful civil resistance to Indonesian rule.

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