Photos and videos taken by Indonesian separatists feature a kidnapped New Zealand pilot.

By The Associated Press; Edited by News Gate Team

A separatist rebel leader in Papua province said Phillip Mark Mehrtens, who was taken hostage last week, would be safe “as long as Indonesia does not use its arms.”

Papuan separatist rebels pose for a photo with a man they said is New Zealand pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens at an undisclosed location in Papua province, Indonesia. 
West Papua Liberation Army / via AP

Indonesian city of Jakarta Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province on Tuesday published images and video of a man they claimed to be the New Zealand pilot they had been holding hostage since last week.

The West Papua Liberation Army, the military branch of the Free Papua Movement, assaulted Phillip Mark Mehrtens’ single-engine plane as it touched down on a tiny runway in Paro in the remote Nduga region and kidnapped him. Mehrtens was a pilot for the Indonesian airline Susi Air.

According to Namia Gwijangge, the Nduga district chairman, the five-passenger plane was intended to pick up 15 construction workers who had been constructing a health clinic in Paro after being threatened with death by separatist rebels commanded by Egianus Kogoya.

One of the passengers, Gwijangge, claimed, “Our plan to evacuate the workers enraged the rebels, who retaliated by setting fire to the jet and detaining the pilot.” “We regret this occurrence very much,”

For many areas of the mountainous region, flying is the only practicable means of transportation.

Because they are native Papuans, the rebels released all five passengers, according to rebel spokeswoman Sebby Sambom.

A squad of gunmen, led by Kogoya, were seen setting fire to the plane on the runway in videos and pictures that Sambom supplied to The Associated Press on Tuesday. Kogoya claimed to have taken the pilot prisoner while seated in the cockpit of the aircraft as part of their fight “to free Papua” from Indonesia.

In a another video, Mehrtens was seen standing in a forest with a group of individuals carrying weapons, spears, and bows and arrows around him. The separatists told the man to declare, “Indonesia must accept Papua as independent,” in a third video.

“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.”

“Taking civilians hostage for any reason is unacceptable,” Mahfud said in a video statement late Tuesday. He said persuasion is the best method to ensure hostage safety, but “the government does not rule out other efforts.”

He highlighted that Papua is considered to be a part of Indonesia by the government.

Mahfud declared that Papua would always be considered a legal component of the Republic of Indonesia’s unitary state.

We are aware of the images and videos going viral, but we won’t be making any more comments at this time, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated in a statement on Wednesday.

In order to establish communication and engage in negotiations with the rebels, authorities are enlisting the help of a number of community leaders, including tribal and religious figures, according to Papua police chief Mathius Fakhiri, who spoke to media in Jayapura, the provincial capital.

Conflicts between Indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region.

The 15 construction workers, who were rescued Feb. 8 by security forces, came from other Indonesian islands to build the health center in Paro. They had taken refuge in a priest’s house in the village for several days after rebels threatened to kill them.

Separatists consider civilian workers to be outsiders who sometimes spy for the Indonesian government.

Conflict in the region has risen in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.

By The Associated Press; Edited by News Gate Team

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