A Papuan rebel group has released photos and videos of a New Zealand pilot they have held hostage. According to the so-called West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the man is in good health.
Phillip Mark Mehrtens, 37, was abducted last week in the Indonesian province of Papua. He will not be released until the Indonesian government recognizes Papuan independence, TPNPB has said. But Indonesia is not planning to do that.
A video released by the separatists shows the rebels setting fire to the plane. Images of Mehrtens were also sent to international media today.
It shows him standing among men armed with firearms, bows and arrows and spears. “Indonesia must recognize that Papua is independent,” the pilot is forced to say.
It is unclear when the photos and videos were taken. “He is safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use weapons,” a TPNPB spokesman told AP news agency.
The Indonesian authorities say they are doing everything they can to get Mehrtens to safety. Negotiations are underway, but the government does not rule out “other options”. Granting what the rebels demand is out of the question as far as Jakarta is concerned. “Papua will forever remain part of the Republic of Indonesia,” said responsible minister Mohammad Mahfud.
The provinces of Papua and West Papua have been the scene of violence between rebels and Indonesian soldiers for decades. After a relatively quiet period, violence has recently flared up. The battle between the two sides also costs civilian casualties.
In 1969, the area, a former colony of the Netherlands, was awarded to Indonesia. But the referendum with which that happened is internationally regarded as a farce. Many Papuans feel disadvantaged and some of them continue to strive for independence.
UN human rights experts sounded the alarm last year about the situation in the disadvantaged province. There are allegations of large-scale extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture by Indonesian security forces.
“Swift action is needed to stop human rights abuses against indigenous Papuans,” said one of the UN experts. Indonesia denies these allegations. The government considers the TPNPB a terrorist organization.
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