Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – The Indonesian Military (TNI) has said it is ready to launch a strike against the West Papuan rebel group holding a New Zealand national hostage but will wait for the command from the government, as negotiations are ongoing.
Susi Air pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens was captured by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), led by Egianus Kogoya, on Feb. 7 after landing in Nduga, Papua Highlands province, along with several Indonesian passengers, who were later released.
The separatist group, which is linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM), has demanded that Jakarta recognize Papuan independence in return for Mehrtens' release and has used the ongoing hostage crisis to internationalize its cause.
TNI spokesperson Rear Adm. Kisdiyanto said military forces had identified several possible locations where Merhtens could be held. "We cannot ascertain [where Merhtens is being kept among the several hideouts].
But through the means at our disposal, whether airplanes or other intelligence, we already know several locations in the region that might be their positions," Kisdiyanto said on Wednesday, as quoted by Kompas.id.
Kisdiyanto said the TNI was ready to launch an attack should the government give the command but that security forces were prioritizing a safer approach. "The TNI, once the government gives the order to execute, can carry that out immediately," he said.
"But what's more important is how [we can ensure] the hostage's safety." The military has made a number of similar remarks since the abduction of Mehrtens more than a month ago.
TNI commander Adm. Yudo Margono had previously turned down an offer of assistance from New Zealand Ambassador Kevin Burnett to assist in the negotiations with the hostage-takers, claiming he was confident the TNI could complete the operation.
Yudo noted that the TNI considered the hostage issue a law enforcement operation, not a military operation, and would continue to prioritize persuasion and patience to protect civilians living in the area.