Indonesia to negotiate with Papua rebels for New Zealand pilot’s release

Tria Dianti
Indonesia to negotiate with Papua rebels for New Zealand pilot’s release Papuan students show posters during a protest in front of the United States embassy in Jakarta, Aug. 15, 2020, demanding that Washington take responsibility for the signing of the New York agreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia which handed Papua over to Indonesia in 1962.
[Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Authorities in Indonesia’s Papua will negotiate with separatist rebels to secure the release of a New Zealand pilot the insurgents took hostage last week, police and military officials said Wednesday.

However, a spokesman for the rebel group West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) said that while they were ready to negotiate, they would do so only if another country was involved as a mediator.

The government’s negotiation plan came after the TPNPB released a video on Tuesday in which the group said it would kill pilot Philip Mehrtens if government security forces came for them.

The Papuan police have been coordinating with the local government as well as indigenous and religious leaders to communicate with the local rebel group led by Egianus Kogoya, provincial police spokesman Benny Adi Prabowo said.

“Regional authorities … and customary and religious leaders have access,” he told BenarNews.

“We are allowing them to take the lead in opening a space for communication with the Egianus Kogoya group,” he said.

Some people tasked with the negotiations have arrived in Nduga regency’s Paro district, where rebels set fire to a plane belonging to Susi Air and took Mehrtens hostage on Feb. 7.

Early Wednesday, Papua military chief Maj. Gen. Muhammad Saleh Mustafa confirmed that the person in the photo and video released by the rebel group is Mehrtens.

“Based on the visible features, it is true that the photos and videos circulating on social media are of the Susi Air pilot, namely Capt. Philip Mark Mehrtens,” Saleh said in a statement received by BenarNews on Wednesday.

In the video, Mehrtens repeated the separatist group’s demand for the Indonesian military to withdraw from Papua.

“The Papuan military has taken me captive in their fight for Papuan independence. They ask for the Indonesian military to go home, if not I will remain captive and my life is threatened,” Mehrtens said.

Donal Fariz, a lawyer for Susi Air, also said the person in the video is Mehrtens.

‘Return to the motherland’s fold’

Early indications from comments on the government’s and the rebels’ side don’t bode well.

TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom said that if Jakarta insists on negotiating without involving the international community, there will be no talks.

“We don’t want to deal with the Indonesian government only,Sambom said.

Meanwhile, Papua military spokesman Col. Herman Taryaman called the rebel group’s demand for Indonesia to withdraw from Papua impossible to fulfill and “absurd.”

“In fact, we hope that their group will come to their senses and return to the motherland’s fold,” Herman said.

He added that New Zealand Embassy staff had met with Lt. Gen. I. Nyoman Cantiasa, the commander of the joint military and police operation in Papua.

“They basically stated that the most important thing is that Philip is safe. Secondly, they asked us to have a medical team and medical equipment on stand-by in the event Philip is evacuated,” Nyoman said.

In 2021, another Susi Air pilot from New Zealand and his three passengers were held by separatist rebels in Papua’s Puncak regency but were released after two hours.

Security forces are trying to locate Mehrtens by conducting air and land surveillance, Herman said.

“We have not been able to pin-point Captain Philip’s location yet,” he said.

Violence and tensions in Papua, a region that makes up the western half of New Guinea island, have intensified in recent years.

The region has a history of human rights violations by Indonesian security forces and police. Papuan separatist rebels also have been accused of attacking civilians.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua, a former Dutch colony like Indonesia, and annexed it. In 1969, the United Nations sponsored a referendum where only about 1,000 people voted.

Despite accusations that the vote was a farce, the U.N. recognized the outcome, effectively endorsing Indonesia’s control over Papua.

Arie Firdaus in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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