6 Jun 2023

West Papuan leader reiterates calls for release of NZ hostage

1:15 pm on 6 June 2023
The West Papua National Liberation Army with Phillip Mehrtens. The flag is the Morning Star flag which is banned by the Indonesian government

New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens has been held hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army since February. Photo: Supplied/TPNPB

The leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is reiterating his call to West Papua Liberation Army (TPNPB) militants to release the New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens whom they have held hostage since February.

In a statement on Friday, the movement's president Benny Wenda strongly urged the militants to reconsider their recent threat to shoot Mehrtens, saying it goes against all Papuan beliefs and teachings.

Wenda said for over sixty years the blood of innocent Papuans has been spilled on their ancestral lands by Indonesian security forces and he cannot comprehend why the militants would even consider spilling the blood of another innocent on their lands.

He urged the militants to consider the impacts this would have on Mehrtens family but also the damage such an action would have on their national liberation cause.

"I would like to strongly encourage my brothers and sisters in the TPNPB camp to reconsider the threat made against the pilot and what this would mean to his grieving family, as well as to our national liberation cause," he said.

"All West Papuans know that international law is on our side: Indonesia's military occupation and initial claim on West Papua being clearly wrong under international law. But so too is taking the life of an innocent person who is not involved in the conflict."

West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda.

Benny Wenda Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

Wenda also condemned the Indonesian government's insistence on a military approach to resolving the hostage situation, saying the priority for all parties should be the safe return of Phillip Mehrtens to his family.

"I would also like to urge the government of Indonesia not to make any reckless statements or actions regarding this hostage crisis," he said, adding that "The Indonesian government has a duty to assist in Mehrtens' safe release."

"I also urge the government of New Zealand, the UN and the international community to exert pressure on Jakarta to ensure his safe release as soon as possible, and to listen to the voices, cries and demands of the Papuan people who wish to be free in their own land."

He said Mehrtens has unwittingly been made into a pawn in a decades-long conflict between Indonesia and the colonised peoples of West Papua.

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