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West Papua rebels release video of kidnapped former Jetstar pilot

The Guardian - February 14, 2024

Jordyn Beazley – Rebels in Indonesia's West Papua region have released a video of New Zealand pilot, Phillip Mehrtens, in which he tells his family he loves them and is being treated well by his captors.

Mehrtens, a former Jetstar pilot, was taken hostage by the West PapuaNational Liberation Army a year ago as a bargaining chip for its push for independence from Indonesia. The video was filmed on 22 December – prior to the army announcing last week Mehrtens would soon be freed, but not confirming when.

"I'm OK, they are treating me well, I'm trying to stay positive," Mehrtens said in the video message directed to his family. He added that the "Komadan" – which is Bahasa for commander – who took the video said he can try calling his family next time the commander visits him.

"I love you both lots and miss you both lots and hope to be able to talk with you soon."

In a second video that was also released, Mehrtens said the Komadan was able to help order "a couple of things for me", requesting two ventolin inhalers and an ebook reader with "as many English books as possible".

"That would be very much appreciated," he said in the video. It's unclear who the second video was directed at.

On 7 February, a year to the day since Mehrtens was kidnapped after he landed a small commercial passenger plane at Paro airport in Nduga (epicenter of the growing Papuan insurgency), the army announced Mehrtens would be freed "to protect humanity and ensure human rights".

In a statement announcing the release, the chief of general staff of the West Papua National Liberation Army, Terianus Satto, criticised the Indonesian and New Zealand governments for not meeting the terms for peace negotiations to begin between Indonesia and West Papua in exchange for Mehrtens' release.

In May last year, the army threatened to shoot Mehrtens if the Indonesian government did not meet its demands to begin independence talks.

Mehrtens' kidnapping has renewed attention on the long-running and deadly conflict that has raged in West Papua, which makes up the western half of Papua New Guinea, since Indonesia took control of the former Dutch colony in 1969.

The Free West Papua Movement, of which the West Papua National Liberation Army is the armed wing and regularly engages in skirmishes with Indonesian security forces, has continued to demand a fair vote on self-determination.

Peaceful acts of civil disobedience by Indigenous West Papuans, such as raising the banned "Morning Star" flag, are met with police and military brutality and long jail sentences.

In 2022, UN human rights experts called for urgent and unrestricted humanitarian access to the region because of serious concerns about "shocking abuses against Indigenous Papuans, including child killings, disappearances, torture and mass displacement of people".

On the same day the army announced Mehrtens would be released, New Zealand's minister for foreign affairs, Winston Peters, released a statement appealing for Mehrtens to be freed immediately, adding the government had been working with the Indonesian authorities to secure his release.

"Let me be absolutely clear. There can never be any justification for hostage taking," Peters said.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/14/kidnapped-new-zealand-pilot-phillip-mehrtens-release-west-papua-rebel