West Papua rebels threaten to shoot New Zealand pilot if independence talks denied
Rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region have threatened to shoot a New Zealand pilot being held hostage if countries do not comply with their demand to start independence talks within two months, a new video released by the group shows.
Guerrilla fighters in Papua’s central highlands, who want to free Papua from Indonesia, kidnapped Phillip Mehrtens after he landed a commercial plane in the mountainous area of Nduga in February.
In the new video, a visibly emaciated Mehrtens holds the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of West Papuan independence, and is surrounded by Papuan fighters brandishing rifles.
Mehrtens is seen talking to the camera, saying the separatists want countries other than Indonesia to engage in dialogue on Papuan independence.
“If it does not happen within two months then they say they will shoot me,” Mehrtens says in the video.
A spokesperson for New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs said in an email to Reuters on Saturday that it was aware of the photos and videos circulating.
“We’re doing everything we can to secure a peaceful resolution and Mr Mehrtens’ safe release,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s military spokesperson, Julius Widjojono, said on Saturday that the military would continue to carry out measurable actions in accordance with standard operating procedure. The Indonesian foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Indonesian authorities have previously said they are prioritising peaceful negotiations to secure the release of the Susi Air pilot, but have struggled to access the isolated and rugged highland terrain.
In April, rebel gunmen attacked Indonesian army troops who were deployed to rescue Mehrtens, leaving at least six dead and about 30 missing.
A low-level but increasingly deadly battle for independence has been waged in resource-rich Papua ever since it was controversially brought under Indonesian control in a vote overseen by the United Nations in 1969.
The conflict has escalated significantly since 2018, with pro-independence fighters mounting deadlier and more frequent attacks, largely because they have managed to procure more sophisticated weapons.
Rumianus Wandikbo of the West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, called on countries such as New Zealand and Australia as well as western nations to kickstart talks with Indonesia and the separatists.
He said in a separate video: “We do not ask for money …We really demand our rights for sovereignty.”