The West Papua Liberation Army (TPNPB) has released a video dated April 24, 2023 of Phillip Mehrtens, the New Zealand pilot who has been held hostage for almost three months in Indonesia’s West Papua.
In the grainy, one and a half minute long video, Mehrtens is shown speaking calmly to the camera, first in Bahasa Indonesia, and then in English. He is wearing a black shirt and is flanked by two unarmed Papuan men.
“Good afternoon, today is Monday, the 24th of April 2023. It’s almost three months since I’ve been kidnapped from Paro. As you can see, I’m still alive, I’m healthy. I’m eating well, drinking. I live with the people here, we travel together as required. We sit together, we rest together,” Mehrtens said.
Mehrtens continued: “Indonesia has been dropping bombs in the area over the last week. There’s no need. It’s dangerous for me and everybody here. Thank you for your support.”
According to CNN, a statement from the TPNPB accompanied the footage, calling on the New Zealand government to mediate and initiate negotiations for Mehrtens’ release. The group also asked Indonesian authorities to cease its military operations in the area.
In mid-April 2023, Indonesian army troops attempted to rescue Mehrtens, but it ended in a failed mission, leaving at least six soldiers dead and 30 missing.
Mehrtens was seized 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 1969, there has been ongoing conflict in Western New Guinea between Indonesia and the Free Papua Movement.
One of the TPNPB’s demands after Mehrtens’ abduction was for governments, specifically Australia and New Zealand, to cease support and training of the Indonesian military.