A pilot kidnapped in Indonesia’s West Papua will finally be released after a year in captivity, according to his captors.
Philip Merthens, from New Zealand, was taken on February 7, 2023 by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) when his commercial charter plane carrying five passengers was attacked after it landed safely at Paro Airfield in the remote region of Nduga.
“In order to protect humanity and ensure human rights, the Management of the Central Headquarters of the National Command, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) will return the pilot Philip Max Martherns [sic] to his family through the Jurisdiction of the Secretary General of the United Nations,” the TPNPB’s Major General Terianus Satto said in a statement seen by Indonesian media.
The announcement has been made exactly a year after Merthen was abducted. No further details about the release have been given.
A spokesperson for NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters told NZ media that New Zealand “continues to work with all parties on securing Mr. Mehrtens’ safe release”.
According to Indonesian media outlet Jakarta Globe, one of the reasons TPNPB is releasing Mehrtens is due to him being from New Zealand, a country that the group believes is emotionally connected to Papua.
“Most Australians and New Zealanders support Papua’s independence. We are holding him not as an enemy but as a friend who lives with TPNPB forces in the Ndugama region, Papua,” a TPNPB spokesperson told Jakarta Globe.