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Pilot pictured after being taken hostage by Indonesian rebels

Images released by the group show a New Zealand pilot held hostage in Indonesia by separatist rebels.

Phillip Mark Mehrtens was captured by the West Papua Liberation Army last week after his fighters stormed him.

He was to collect 15 construction workers, who were threatened with their lives while building a Nduga health centre.

“Our plan to evacuate workers angered rebels, who responded with setting fire to the aircraft and seizing pilot,” stated Namia Gwijangge, district chief – one of five aboard when the plane landed.


Sebby Sambom, a rebel spokesperson, stated that the passengers were freed because they are native Papuans.

But Mr Mehrtens, who is from Christchurch and works for Susi Air in Indonesia, was taken hostage.

Video and photos released Tuesday showed the rebels setting fire to the single-engine plane and pilot in a forest, surrounded by gunmen with spears, bows and arrows.

Egianus Kogoya, rebel leader, said that he held him hostage to ensure Papua’s independence. Mr Mehrtens was standing beside him.

“He will be safe with us as long as Indonesia doesn’t use its arms from the air or the ground.”

According to police, they wanted to get Mr Mehrtens involved in a joint effort with tribal and community leaders as well as religious figures.

A minister from Indonesia claimed that they were also involved with negotiations, but warned that the government would not exclude other attempts.

Mohammad Mahfud (Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs) stated that “Papua will always remain a legitimate component of the Republic of Indonesia.”

The New Zealand foreign affairs department stated that it had seen the video and photos but would not comment.

Image Photo: AP

Security forces rescued the construction workers from other areas of Indonesia after they fled to a priest’s home when rebels threatened them.

Separatists in Papua believe that outsiders are spying for the government.

It is located in the country’s far east and shares a border to Papua New Guinea.

It was voted into Indonesia in 1969. Since then, there has been a low-level rebellion with frequent clashes between security forces and indigenous people.


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