Images and a video emerged Wednesday purporting to show Philip Mehrtens, a pilot who is currently being held hostage by Indonesian rebels, according to the BBC.
Operating a small passenger plane for Indonesian airline Susi Air, Mehrtens departed from Mozes Kilangin Airport on Feb. 7 but upon arrival at Nduga in the Papua Highlands province the aircraft was attacked by fighters of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the BBC reported.
The rebels released the five passengers, all of whom were native Papuans but held Mehrtens, who hails from New Zealand, hostage, according to the BBC.
The rebels later moved Mehrtens to a more remote area, with a spokesman telling BBC Indonesian that the pilot was “safe” but would be utilized as “leverage” for political negotiations. TPNPB members seek independence for Papuans from Indonesia and also blame countries “like New Zealand and Australia” for assisting Indonesia, according to the BBC.
Separatist fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region have released video footage of a New Zealand pilot taken hostage seven days ago.
Philip Mehrtens was kidnapped after landing his plane in Papua’s remote mountainous province of Nduga.https://t.co/hioaiFTuc2
— Morning Report (@NZMorningReport) February 14, 2023
A video released by the rebels purportedly shows Mehrtens saying that the “Papuan military” asks “for the Indonesian military to go home to Indonesia and if not, I will remain captive for my life,” Reuters reported. The outlet could not independently verify the photos and video of the pilot.
A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson referenced awareness of the images and video of Mehrtens, according to Reuters. Mahfud MD, the Indonesian minister responsible for security affairs, expressed a desire to free the pilot through “persuasive approaches” with a priority on “safety” but could not rule out the use of “other ways.”
The Papua Highlands province joins the West Papua province to form the Indonesian portion of the island of New Guinea, according to the BBC. The region also shares the island with the nation of Papua New Guinea. (RELATED: Indonesia Bans Sex Outside Of Marriage)
Rich in resources, the region faced much in the way of contestation since a 1969 vote supervised by the United Nations brought it under Indonesian control. Conflict between Papuan rebels and Indonesian authorities has steadily increased since 2018, the BBC reported.
Indonesia in 2022 hosted the G-20 Summit and voted to shift the national capital from Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo due to flooding concerns. The nation also partnered with the United States in a deal to reduce coal emissions.