New Zealand Investigates New Footage of Pilot Held Hostage in Papua
Authorities in New Zealand are conducting an investigation into recently surfaced footage depicting a pilot who has been held hostage by separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region for the past 10 months. The captive, Phillip Mehrtens, a 37-year-old New Zealander, was kidnapped by fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army (TPNPB) in February. The incident occurred after he landed his Susi Air single-engine plane on a remote airstrip in the mountainous province of Nduga.
The 48-second video, which is making rounds on social media, shows Mehrtens sitting in a grassy field, surrounded by armed men pointing their automatic weapons at him. The group’s leader aims his gun directly at the pilot’s head while addressing the camera.
Accompanying the video is a message that states Mr. Mehrtens will be shot dead within two months unless the rebels’ demands are met. The group has consistently asserted that they will only release him once Papua achieves self-rule.
New Zealand’s foreign ministry has acknowledged the existence of the video and stated that efforts to secure the pilot’s release are ongoing. The ministry has been working closely with Indonesian authorities and has deployed consular staff to assist in resolving the situation. Ensuring the pilot’s safety and well-being remains the top priority, and his family is receiving support from the ministry.
In April, separatist gunmen attacked an Indonesian military unit searching for the pilot, resulting in the deaths of at least six troops. The resource-rich Papua region was previously a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia following a controversial United Nations-backed referendum in 1969. Since then, it has been the site of a long-standing battle for independence, which has intensified since 2018 with pro-independence fighters launching more frequent and deadlier attacks.
The TPNPB, which has been advocating for independence for decades, targeted Mehrtens due to New Zealand’s cooperation with Indonesia, according to the group’s statement. This kidnapping incident marks the second abduction carried out by independence fighters since 1996 when 26 members of a World Wildlife Fund research mission in Mapenduma were taken captive. Two individuals from the group were killed by their abductors, but the remaining hostages were eventually freed within five months.
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