24 Feb 2023

New Zealand govt intervened to stop operation to save pilot

8:21 am on 24 February 2023

Photo: Supplied/TPNPB

Indonesian security forces were about to launch a rescue operation for a pilot held hostage in Papua before New Zealand intervened.

The ABC reports that Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Mahfud Mahmodin, as saying his forces knew the exact location of New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens, who was captured two weeks ago by separatist rebels after he landed a plane in Papua's remote highlands.

The Minister said soldiers almost moved in to attack the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), until New Zealand authorities requested there be no acts of violence to free its citizens.

The ABC said the New Zealand government wanted to prioritise the Susi Air pilot's safety, and a military attack could become an international matter.

Instead, Mahmodin said Indonesia will negotiate with the rebels to release Mehrtens.

The rebels said they were refusing to release the pilot until Indonesia grants independence to the Papua region.

Mahmodin said he understood New Zealand's decision.

"We already knew the place [where the pilot was being detained], at what coordinate points, but as soon as we were about to move, the New Zealand government came here asking for no acts of violence," he said.

"Therefore, we are still waiting, hopefully there will be a resolution soon."

Papua police chief Mathius Faakhiri told Indonesian media Mehrtens was in "good health".

"Currently, pilot Philip is still in the hands of the KKB [the name Indonesia gives to the Papuan armed group] led by Egianus Kogoya and is in good health," he said.

Akoubou Amatus Douw, a spokesperson for the TPNPB, told the ABC they wanted the UN to mediate talks between New Zealand, Indonesia and TPNPB.

"That's our position at the moment," he said.

"He [Mehrtens] is part of our … people in the Pacific. We like to, you know, save his life. We respect human values, human rights for every individuals, according to the United Nations charter."

The Susi Air plane that Phillip Mehrtens was piloting being torched by the rebels

The Susi Air plane that Phillip Mehrtens was piloting being torched by the rebels Photo: Suppplied/TPNPB