Separatist fighters of the West Papua National Liberation Army- Free Papua Organization (TPNPB- OPM) have released images of New Zealander Philip Mehrtens, who was captured and taken hostage by the group last week in West Papua, Indonesia.
Due to the remoteness of the Papua region, aircraft are often used for quick and easy transportation to villages. Mehrtens was piloting a small passenger plane for Susi Air when he landed in the village of Paro located in the Papuan highlands. The aircraft was quickly surrounded by TPNPB fighters, who released the five civilian passengers because they were indigenous Papuans. Mehrtens was taken captive, with TPNPB leader Egianus Kogoya saying he would only be released if Indonesia recognized Papaun independence.
Videos and images of New Zealand pilot hostage Philip Mehrtens released by West Papuan independence fighters. They've declared he is alive and well. via @AnneABarker https://t.co/uibXUgPWKP pic.twitter.com/voEJB0zVcL
— Prianka Srinivasan (@iamprianka) February 14, 2023
“We’re taking the pilot hostage, not for anything else, but for Papua’s freedom,” Kogoya said in a video statement, adding “He will be safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its arms, either from the air or on the ground.”
The TPNPB released pictures and videos of Mehrtens as proof of life. In one video, Mehrtens was recorded saying “Indonesia needs to recognise Papua’s independence.” Other photos show Mehrtens seemingly mingling with TPNPB fighters and showing symbols of solidarity as fighters pose with weapons.
An Indonesian military spokesman told the Australian media outlet ABC that they are trying to figure out Mehrtens’ exact location to launch a rescue mission. Papua police chief Mathius Fakhiri said that local authorities are trying to work with community and tribal leaders to negotiate Mehrtens’ release without the need for military action.