A valiant attempt to rescue a New Zealand pilot kidnapped in Indonesia’s Papua region has ended in bloodshed, with at least six soldiers dead, and 30 missing.
Separatist rebels attacked Indonesian army troops who were deployed for the rescue mission, The Guardian reported.
Initial reports from the army state that there were about 36 soldiers at a post in the district of Nduga, searching for Phillip Mark Mehrtens, a New Zealand pilot working for Susi Air, a private charter plane.
Mehrtens was taken by Papua rebels on February 7, 2023 when the aircraft he was piloting was stormed by rebels after landing at Paro Airfield in the remote region of Nduga.
Since his abduction, rebels have uploaded numerous photographs and videos of Mehrtens being surrounded by weapon-wielding rebels.
In a statement seen by CNN, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) said that its soldiers attacked two Indonesian military posts in the Yal and Mugi districts in Nduga Regency between April 15-17, 2023.
The statement also said that the rebels shot dead 13 Indonesian military and police officials in the Mugi district. Although the statement did not provide any proof, it said that the rebels were in possession of 12 bodies, and one body had been evacuated by the Indonesian military.
ABC News reported that the Papua military reported that at least six died and 21 others fled into the jungle. A military spokesperson said that authorities are still searching for 30 soldiers.
“It’s still unknown exactly how many Indonesian army troops died and were injured,” the spokesperson was reported to have said.
There has been ongoing conflict in Western New Guinea between Indonesia and the Free Papua Movement since 1969. Abuses and injustices against indigenous Papuans are regularly reported by the United Nations.
One of the TPNPB’s demands after Mehrtens’ abduction was for countries, specifically Australia and New Zealand, to cease support and training of the Indonesian military.