Captured NZ pilot shown in Papua rebels’ video

Separatist fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region have released video footage of a New Zealand pilot taken hostage seven days ago.

Philip Mehrtens was kidnapped after landing his plane in Papua’s remote mountainous province of Nduga.

In the video sent to the BBC’s Indonesian service, Mr Mehrtens was surrounded by seven West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) fighters.

They pledged to release the pilot if Papua was granted independence.

Previously a Dutch colony, Papua declared independence in 1961, but Indonesia took control two years later. The resource-rich region has been caught in a battle for independence ever since it was brought under Jakarta’s formal control in a UN-supervised vote in 1969.

The fighters appearing in the videos were armed with a mixture of assault rifles and bows and arrows. One man – who addressed the camera and outlined the group’s demands – introduced himself as TPNPB leader Egianus Kogoya.

The BBC cannot independently verify the man’s identity.

Mr Mehrtens – who appeared in the video wearing a blue denim jacket, a matching hat and long khaki pants – seemingly read a prepared statement in which he repeated the rebels’ demands.

The 37-year-old was kidnapped after his small passenger plane which belongs to Indonesia’s Susi Air landed in Nduga.

His plane had departed from the Mozes Kilangin airport in Central Papua early on Tuesday, and was meant to return a few hours later after dropping off five passengers.

But shortly after landing rebels stormed the single-engine plane and seized the Christchurch native. A TPNPB spokesman later told BBC Indonesian that Mr Mehrtens had been moved to a stronghold district for the group in a remote area, and he would be used as “leverage” in political negotiations.

The group says that the pilot is being held because New Zealand co-operates militarily with Indonesia.

The other passengers, who were indigenous Papuans, were released.

Papuan rebels seeking independence from Indonesia have previously issued threats and even attacked aircraft they believe to be carrying personnel and supplies for Jakarta.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian authorities have been common since, with pro-independence fighters mounting more frequent attacks since 2018.

The region is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. It is separate from Papua New Guinea, which was given independence by Australia in 1975.

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