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New Zealand pilot captured by Papuan fighters says he is ‘alive and well’ in new hostage video

<i>West Papua National Liberation Army/Reuters/FILE</i><br/>New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens
via REUTERS
West Papua National Liberation Army/Reuters/FILE
New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens

By Heather Chen, CNN

Philip Mehrtens, the New Zealand pilot held hostage by separatist fighters in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, has appeared in a video saying he is “alive and well,” as concerns grow for his safety as fighting with Indonesian security forces intensifies.

In the one and a half minute video, Mehrtens, dressed in a black T-shirt and shorts and sitting between two unarmed Papuan men, speaks calmly to the camera first in Indonesian and then English.

“Good afternoon, today is Monday the 24th of April, 2023 — it’s almost three months since they (separatist fighters) kidnapped me from Paro,” Mehrtens said. “As you can see I’m still alive — I am healthy. I have been eating well, drinking,” he continued.

“I live with the people here — we travel together as required, we sit together, we rest together.”

He then called on the Indonesian authorities to stop ongoing airstrikes in the Nduga Regency where he is being held, saying the attacks could put his life as well as others at risk.

“Indonesia’s been dropping bombs in the area over the last week,” Mehrtens said. “Please, there is no need, it is dangerous for me and everybody here. Thank you for your support.”

In a statement accompanying the video, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) called on the New Zealand government to mediate and initiate negotiations for Mehrtens’ release and urged Indonesian authorities to stop its military operations in Papua.

“We emphasize that the pilot’s release must go through negotiations — not through military operations,” the group’s spokesperson Sebby Sambom said.

“Therefore, Indonesian President Joko Widodo must stop military operations in Ndugama immediately — if not (it will) endanger the life of the New Zealand pilot.”

Fighting and unrest continue to escalate in the impoverished but resource-rich region of Papua, where the Indonesian military maintains a heavy and controversial presence.

Designated as a terrorist group by the Indonesian government, TPNPB has periodically released updates about Mehrtens — who was captured by fighters in February after landing a commercial Susi Air charter flight at Paro Airport.

They have not disclosed Mehrtens’ location.

Indonesian security forces previously said they would refrain from any action that could endanger Mehrtens’ life but launched a military search operation for the pilot that resulted in clashes.

Last week separatist rebels claimed they killed at least 13 Indonesian military soldiers — a figure dismissed as “fake news” by Indonesian military chief Admiral Yudo Margono who confirmed one fatality and said four soldiers had gone missing while the rest had returned to their posts.

In a statement following the attacks, the rebels said they shot dead 13 Indonesian military and police officials and were in possession of 12 bodies, without providing proof.

CNN has reached out to Indonesian army officials for further comment about the latest hostage video and updates on the search mission for Mehrtens.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he had received reports of the increased military confrontations and again called on the separatist group to release Mehrtens, reported CNN affiliate RNZ.

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