| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Indonesia: New Zealand pilot taken hostage by rebels seeking Papua independence

After setting fire to his plane which was carrying six passengers, rebels took a pilot from New Zealand hostage, in Indonesia’s restive Papua region

The militants of the West Papua Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Free Papua Organisation, hijacked the plane shortly after it landed at Paro Airport in the mountainous district of Nduga on Tuesday.

The pilot was identified by the local police as Philip Mark Mehrtens. While other passengers, including a young child, were released because they were indigenous Papuans, reports Independent.

A combined team of police and military personnel has been sent to the area, Papua Police Chief Inspector Mathius Fakhiri told reporters on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) said that they have “arrested” the pilot and added that they won’t release him until their demand for independence is not met.

“We have taken the pilot hostage and we are bringing him out,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“We will never release the pilot we are holding hostage unless Indonesia recognizes and frees Papua from Indonesian colonialism.”

This is the second time that they have resorted to abduction seeking to free Papua from Indonesia.

In 1996, during the peak of the Free Papua Movement, 26 members of a wildlife research mission were held captive in the neighbouring district of Mapenduma. Some hostages were held for more than four months.

According to reports, the plane, operated by Indonesian aviation company Susi Air, was carrying about 450kg of supplies from an airport in Timika, a mining town in the neighbouring Mimika district.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the embassy in Indonesia is working on the case.

“I don’t have any other details at this point that I can share,” he told Radio New Zealand.

A low-level insurgency has simmered in the region ever since Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 an UN-sponsored ballot that received heavy criticism.

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