24 Feb 2023

Wenda calls for Papua rebels to release kidnapped pilot

12:43 pm on 24 February 2023

Photo: Supplied/TPNPB

Papua independence movement leader Benny Wenda says the release of New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens held hostage by armed rebels is out of his hands.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) fighters kidnapped Mehrtens on February 7 after he landed a small commercial passenger plane in Nduga Regency.

The group then burned the Indonesian-owned Susi Air plane and demanded the New Zealand government negotiate directly for Merhtens' release.

Wenda chairs a separate pro-independence political group, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

He told RNZ Pacific he does not condone the actions of the liberation army rebels and has called for them to release the pilot peacefully.

Benny Wenda the leader of the West Papauan Freedom Movement.

Benny Wenda the leader of the West Papauan Freedom Movement. Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

He said he sympathises with the New Zealand people and Merhtens' family but insists the situation is a result of Indonesia's refusal to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit West Papua.

"Because the place where it's actually happening is where hundreds of thousands have been displaced from 2018 up to now; in Nduga, Intan Jaya, Mybrat and also Oksibil.

"So this happening right now is a warning to Indonesia to let the UN High Commissioner visit which they have been ignoring these last three years."

"We are not enemies [with New Zealand]. We are very good," Wenda said.

"New Zealand is a very strong supporter of West Papua. I do not think the [TPNPB] group can harm the pilot unless Indonesia uses the situation to do harm. That is my concern."

He said Indonesia should consider TPNBS's demands.

Wenda is leading a delegation from the ULMWP are currently in Fiji ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum. The group has observer status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and is lobbying to become a full member.

Disclaimer: RNZ Pacific uses the photos only in the context of reporting events and does not in any way endorse the actions of the TPNPB.