Hipkins urges release of NZ hostage six months after Papua kidnapping

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Papua Regional Police Chief Inspector General Mathius Fakhiri
Papua Regional Police Chief Inspector General Mathius Fakhiri . . . "Our primary concern is the safe rescue of Captain Phillip. This is why we are prioritising all available resources to aid the security forces in negotiations." Image: Tabloid Jubi

RNZ Pacific

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has called again for the immediate release of New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens, who has now been held hostage by pro-independence fighters in West Papua for six months.

Speaking in Auckland, Hipkins said Mehrtens — a pilot for the Indonesian airline Susi Air which provide air links to remote communities in Papua — was a much-loved husband, brother, father and son.

He said Mehrtens’ safety was the top priority and the six-month milestone would be a difficult time for the family.

New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens, flying for Susi Air, appears in new video 100323
New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens, flying for Susi Air, has been held hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) since February 7. Image: Jubi TV screenshot APR

“We will continue to do all we can to bring Phillip home,” he said.

“I want to urge once again those who are holding Phillip to release him immediately. There is absolutely no justification for taking hostages. The longer Phillip is held the more risk there is to his wellbeing and the harder this becomes for him and for his family.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is leading our interagency response and I’ve been kept closely informed of developments over the last six months.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins . . . “I want to urge once again those who are holding Phillip to release him immediately. There is absolutely no justification for taking hostages.” Image: Angus Dreaver/RNZ

Hipkins said consular efforts included working closely with the Indonesian authorities and deploying New Zealand consular staff.

The family was being supported by the ministry both in New Zealand and Indonesia, he said.

“I acknowledge this is an incredibly challenging time for them but they’ve continued to ask for their privacy and I thank people for respecting that.”

Police report ‘good health’
Indonesian police say the NZ pilot taken hostage by the pro-independence fighters on February 7 is in good health and negotiations for his safe release are ongoing.

Jubi reported from Jayapura that Papua police chief Inspector General Mathius Fakhiri said on Monday that Mehrtens remained in good health, but he did not expand on how he obtained that information.

General Fakhiri said the security forces were actively closing in on the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) faction led by Egianus Kogoya and were engaged in negotiations to secure the prompt release of the pilot.

“We are currently awaiting further developments as we work to restrict the movement of Egianus Kogoya’s group. The pilot’s overall condition is healthy,” General Fakhiri said.

Tempo reported General Fakhiri as saying the local government was allowing community and church leaders and family members to take the lead on negotiating with Kogoya, the rebel leader holding Mehrtens.

“Our primary concern is the safe rescue of Captain Phillip. This is why we are prioritising all available resources to aid the security forces in negotiations, ultimately leading to the pilot’s safe return without exacerbating the situation,” General Fakhiri said.

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

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