New Zealand pilot held hostage by separatist group in Indonesia’s Papua

rori buchori /

A pilot from New Zealand has been taken hostage by separatist fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region.

The pilot, identified by local police as Philip Merthens, was taken on February 7, 2023, when his commercial charter plane carrying five passengers was attacked after it landed safely at Paro Airfield in the remote region of Nduga.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) has taken responsibility for the abduction and told BBC News Indonesia on February 9, 2023 that Methens is safe. 

TPNPB said that it had burned the plane, a Susi Air PK-BVY aircraft, after taking Methens.

The charter airline, Susi Air, conducted the protocol for an internal emergency situation by sending another aircraft to check the plane’s position and found that it had been set on fire on the airfield’s runway. 

A TPNPB spokesperson told BBC News Indonesia that the five passengers who were onboard, including a child, had been released because they were native Papuans. 

TPNPB demands

The TPNPB spokesperson, Eganus Kogeya said in a statement seen by CNN that Methens is the group’s second hostage. 

The group also demanded that all incoming flights to Paro Airfield be stopped and said the pilot would not be released until the Indonesian government acknowledged Papuan independence. 

The Indonesian Transportation Ministry temporarily closed the airfield on February 8, 2023. 

The group is also demanding that countries who are supporting and training Indonesian military and police to stop. A chair of TPNPB’s diplomatic council said that the group specifically refers to Australia and New Zealand. 

ABC News reported that TPNPB is also demanding New Zealand take the conflict to the United Nations Security Council and lead peaceful negotiations between the Indonesian government and West Papuan separatists.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that the New Zealand embassy in Jakarta was leading its response to the situation.

Papua conflict

Since 1969, there has been ongoing conflict in Western New Guinea between Indonesia and the Free Papua Movement. 

In 1962, the Dutch handed West New Guinea to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). In 1969, a controversial plebiscite decided that Western New Guinea would be formally integrated as part of Indonesia. 

Since then, abuses and injustices against indigenous Papuans are regularly reported by the United Nations. In 2022, Indonesia dismissed a call by United Nations human rights experts for independent investigations into these reports. 

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