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Papua Rebels Release Videos Showing Kidnapped NZ Pilot Alive

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Papua province released more photos and videos Friday appearing to show the New Zealand pilot they took hostage last month alive.

In a video distributed Friday by rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom, a man wearing a blue jacket is identified as Philip Mark Mehrtens of Christchurch, a pilot for Indonesian aviation company Susi Air who was abducted by independence fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement. He sat at a wooden block on the ground surrounded by separatists holding various weapons, with the morning star flag that is a separatist symbol.

Mehrtens was instructed to read a statement from a piece of paper he held. He said foreign pilots weren’t allowed to work or fly in Papua until it is independent, and that the Free Papua Movement requested the United Nations mediate independence negotiations.

In a separate video, Mehrtens delivered a message to his family asking them not to worry too much, as he has been taken care of and had enough food and water. He also requested his salary be sent directly to his wife.

Another video shows Egianus Kogoya, the leader of the separatist group reading out demands.

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“We ask the UN Security Council to mediate the armed conflict between the West Papua Liberation Army and the Indonesian Military in Papua,” Kogoya said in the video.

The group also asked New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, France, China and Russia to stop supporting military cooperation to Indonesia.

On Feb. 6, the West Papua Liberation Army stormed Mehrtens’ single-engine plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in Paro in remote Nduga district. The plane, carrying five passengers, was scheduled to pick up 15 construction workers who had been building a health center in Paro. The rebels released all five passengers because they are Indigenous Papuans, Sambom had said.

Flying is the only practical way of accessing many parts of the mountainous area.

The 15 construction workers who were rescueFeb. 8 by security forces, came from other Indonesian islands to build the health center in Paro. They had taken refuge in a priest’s house in the village for several days after rebels threatened to kill them.

Separatists consider civilian workers to be outsiders who sometimes spy for the Indonesian government.

The Indonesian Military in a February statement said the military officers are taking the soft approach by doing negotiations between the separatist group and religious and community leaders. But military officers are ready for selected and directed measurable legal actions.

Conflicts between Indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region. Conflict in the region has risen in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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