Report: 6 Soldiers Killed in Search for Captured Pilot

Indonesian military says troops were attacked by separatist rebels in Papua province
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 15, 2023 3:30 AM CST
Updated Apr 17, 2023 3:33 PM CDT
Rebels Say Kidnapped New Zealand Pilot Is Safe
In this undated photo released by West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, Papuan separatist rebels pose for a photo with a man they said is New Zealander pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens.   (West Papua Liberation Army via AP)
UPDATE Apr 17, 2023 3:33 PM CDT

Separatist gunmen attacked Indonesian army troops who were deployed to rescue a New Zealand pilot taken hostage by the rebels in Papua province, leaving at least six dead and about 30 missing, officials said Sunday. Military reports seen by journalists said 21 soldiers fled into the jungle after an attack on a military post and nine others were captured by the rebels, the AP reports. Military spokesperson Col. Herman Taryaman said the soldiers were part of a group that was searching for Phillip Mark Mehrtens, a pilot for the Indonesian aviation company Susi Air who was abducted by the rebels in February.

Feb 15, 2023 3:30 AM CST

Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua province released photos and videos Tuesday of a man they said is the pilot from New Zealand whom they took hostage last week. Phillip Mark Mehrtens of Christchurch, a pilot for Indonesian aviation company Susi Air, was abducted by independence fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, who stormed his single-engine plane shortly after it landed on a small runway in Paro in remote Nduga district, the AP reports. The plane, carrying five passengers, was scheduled to pick up 15 construction workers who had been building a health center in Paro after a group of separatist rebels led by Egianus Kogoya threatened to kill them, said Nduga district chief Namia Gwijangge.

"Our plan to evacuate the workers angered the rebels, who responded by setting fire to the plane and seizing the pilot,” said Gwijangge. "We deeply regret this incident.” Flying is the only practical way of accessing many parts of the mountainous area. The rebels released all five passengers because they are indigenous Papuans, rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom said. Sambom sent videos and photos Tuesday to the AP that showed a group of gunmen, led by Kogoya, setting fire to the plane on the runway. Sitting in the plane’s cockpit, Kogoya said he took the pilot hostage as part of their struggle "to free Papua" from Indonesia.

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Another video showed a man identified as Mehrtens standing in a forest surrounded by a group of people armed with rifles, spears, and bows and arrows. In a third video, the man was ordered by the rebels to say, "Indonesia must recognize Papua is independent." "I took him hostage for Papua independence, not for food or drinks," Kogoya said in the video with the man standing next to him. "He will be safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its arms, either from the air or on the ground." Coordinating Minister for Political, Security, and Legal Affairs Mohammad Mahfud said the government was making every effort to persuade the rebels to release Mehrtens "because the priority is the safety of the hostage."

(More West Papua stories.)

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