10 Apr 2023

Search for Kiwi pilot taken hostage in Papua extended, authorities say

9:14 am on 10 April 2023
Phillip Mehrtens

Philip Mehrtens. Photo: Facebook

The authorities in Indonesia's Papua region say the search for a New Zealand pilot taken hostage by the West Papua Liberation Movement has been extended.

Philip Mehrtens, a pilot for Susi Airlines, was taken hostage in the remote Nduga district on 7 February.

According to Antara News, Senior Commissioner Faizal Rahmadani said they were now also looking for the group in Yahukimo and Puncak districts.

Rahmadani said several efforts have been carried out to rescue the pilot, including involving a negotiating team comprising community leaders, the publication reported.

However, the negotiation has not yielded any results.

The search now covers about 36,000 square kilometres.

Rahmadani said the safety of Captain Merthens was the priority for his team.

The West Papua Liberation Army has released images and videos of Mehrtens with them since he was captured.

In the video, which was sent to RNZ Pacific, Mehrtens was instructed to read a statement saying "no foreign pilots are to work and fly" into Highland Papua until Papua is independent.

He made another demand for West Papua independence from Indonesia later in the statement.

Mehrtens was surrounded by more than a dozen people, some of them armed with weapons.

Previously, a West Papua Liberation Army spokesperson said they were waiting for a response from the New Zealand government to negotiate the release of Mehrtens.

In February, Papua independence movement leader Benny Wenda called for the rebels to release Mehrtens.

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

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