Rebels in Papua New Guinea release footage of NZ hostage, calling for UN mediation

Rebels in Papua New Guinea with abducted New Zealand Pilot
Image: Reuters

Separatists in Indonesia’s resource-rich Papua province have released videos of the New Zealand pilot, appealing with the UN to end the war in the region.

Phillip Mehrtens, a pilot with the local Susi Air service, was abducted by armed members of the Free Papua Movement. The OPM took him when he landed at an airport in the Nduga region last month.

Mehrtens said in one of three tapes that he would only be released if Papua became independent. He thereby requested the United Nations to arbitrate between Papua and Indonesia in order to achieve Papuan independence.

They were shot on March 6, according to Sebby Sambom, a spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister.

There has been a separatist insurgency in Papua since a UN-supervised referendum in 1969 transferred the Dutch-ruled area to Indonesia.

While kidnappings of foreigners were uncommon in the region until recently, the conflict has deteriorated since 2018. Rebels are now conducting more frequent and deadly attacks.

J.O. Sembiring, the Indonesian military commander in Papua, told reporters on Friday that the recording was propaganda.

He added, in response to a query on the OPM’s request for U.N. mediation, that there are “no discussions with terrorists by the state.”

Officials had attempted to negotiate Mehrtens’ release before resorting to “law enforcement action.”

No foreign pilots are allowed to fly to Papua

In one video, Mehrtens is seen reading a statement in a clearing in the woods while surrounded by guys armed with handguns and a bow.

Mehrtens, clad in his uniform consisting of a blue jacket, beige trousers, and a camouflage helmet, said that he had been instructed to make the statement.

He said that until Papua gains independence, no foreign pilots are permitted to work and fly in Papua.

In another video, a separatist encouraged the United States, Britain, France, and China to sever their military links with Indonesia.

In a similar fashion, Mehrtens asked that any outstanding salaries be given to his loved ones so that they may pay for essentials such as food and housing.

Do not worry about me. I am getting the finest possible care given the situation. In a video message, he informed the public that he was fully provided with food, water, and clothes.

I hope that we can be together soon.

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