Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua province released photos and videos Tuesday of a man they said is the pilot from New Zealand whom they took hostage last week.
Phillip Mark Mehrtens, pilot of Indonesian aerospace company Susi Air, landed on a small rink in Paro. After the land he was abducted by independence fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, who stormed his 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 after a group of separatist rebels led by Egianus Kogoya threatened to kill them, said Nduga district chief Namia Gwijangge.
“Our plan to evacuate the workers angered the rebels, who responded by setting fire to the plane and seizing the pilot,” said Gwijangge, who was one of the passengers. “We deeply regret this incident.”
A spokesman for the rebels said they released the five passengers on the plane because they were Papuans.
A number of photos and videos came to The Associated Press on Tuesday. In these images, it was shown that gunmen set fire to the plane on the runway.
“I took him hostage for Papua independence, not for food or drinks,” Kogoya said in the video with the man standing next to him. “He will be safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its arms, either from the air or on the ground.”
Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs Mohammad Mahfud said the government was making every effort to persuade the rebels to release Mehrtens “because the priority is the safety of the hostage.”
“Taking civilians hostage for any reason is unacceptable,” Mahfud said in a video statement late Tuesday. He said persuasion is the best method to ensure hostage safety, but “the government does not rule out other efforts.”
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Wednesday in a statement: “We are aware of the photos and video circulating but won’t be commenting further at this stage.”