New Zealand calls on Papuan rebels to release the pilot kidnapped a year ago | Politics news

Philipp Mertens, a commercial pilot for Susi Air, was captured from an airstrip in the troubled Indonesian province.

New Zealand has called for the immediate release of pilot Philip Mertens, who was captured by fighters in Indonesia’s restive Papua province a year ago.

Mertens, who was flying a single-copter plane for Indonesia’s Sosi Air, was hijacked from his plane on February 7 last year by a group of fighters from the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) who said he would not be released unless… Papua is independent.

The group led by regional commander Elias Kogoya was later released Photos and videos It shows Mertens surrounded by rebels – some armed with rifles and others with bows and arrows – in remote forest areas.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealander was providing “vital air links and supplies to remote communities” at the time of his kidnapping.

“We strongly urge those holding Philip to release him immediately and without harm. His continued detention serves no one’s interests,” Peters said in a statement marking the one-year anniversary of the pilot’s kidnapping.

The incident in the remote highlands of Nduga, one of the most volatile areas in the region, has drawn renewed attention to one of the world’s least known regions. Longest conflicts.

Papua, whose people are ethnically Melanesian, occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea – just 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Australia – and shares a land border with Papua New Guinea.

A low-key battle for independence has been ongoing since Indonesia took control of the resource-rich former Dutch colony after a controversial referendum in 1969.

Peters said New Zealand was working with Indonesian authorities and others to secure Philip’s release.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” he said. “There can never be any justification for taking hostages.”

Peters’ statement came after the TPN-PB, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, said it had asked Kogoya to release Mehrtens, although it did not give a time frame for when that would happen.

“We plan to go ahead with the release on the basis of humanity,” TPN-PB spokesman Sibi Sambom was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

“We believe that most Australians and New Zealanders support Papuan independence,” he added. He added: “We do not want the international community to bear the blame if the pilot dies while being held hostage by our fighters.”

Mertens was able to contact some friends and family before Christmas and assure them he was OK, Peters said.

He added that New Zealand was “exploring all avenues” to repatriate the pilot.

Indonesia deployed police and soldiers to the highlands in an attempt to rescue Mehratins shortly after his capture, and there were reports that Mehratins had been killed. Number of clashes since.

Outsiders, including foreign journalists, international organizations and diplomats, need special permission from Jakarta to visit the area, which is the site of one of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits.

Papua has seen a surge in violence since 2018, when rebels killed 24 Indonesian men who were building a new main road to connect the coast to the highlands.

United Nations human rights experts have expressed concern about this Deterioration Situation.

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