New Zealand pilot held hostage by West Papua rebels faces second week of jungle ordeal

New Zealand pilot held hostage by West Papua rebels faces second week of jungle ordeal

A group of insurgents in West Papua, Indonesia, have issued demands for the release of a New Zealand pilot who was taken hostage when his light plane crashed in the jungle-covered highlands of the Nduga region.

Philip Mehrtens’s plane encountered difficulty seven days ago and crashed in the remote area. He was found, along with five passengers — who were later released — by the West Papua National Liberation Army. The group is calling for independence for West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, when the country was ruled by a military junta.

The group, which has waged an insurgency against the Indonesian government since 1971, told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday that Mr Mehrtens would be released if New Zealand stopped military support for Indonesia.

In the disturbing video where demands were issued, a rebel leader identified as Egianus Kogoya promised the hostage would be “safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its arms, either from the air or on the ground”.

Mohammad Mahmodin, an Indonesian cabinet minister in charge of political and security issues, said the government would “prioritise a persuasive approach”, to secure Mr Mehrtens’s release.

But the government also reiterated its position on Wednesday that West Papua would remain part of the “unitary state of Indonesia”. The New Zealand government has yet to comment on the plight of Mr Mehrtens.

New Zealand says its armed forces “work with the Indonesian defence force through activities such as joint officer training, non-combat training, humanitarian operations and at regional forums”.

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