BTV, Jakarta – Indonesian Military Chief General Yudo Margono said on Wednesday he prefers peaceful means to rescue a pilot from New Zealand who has been taken hostage by the separatist group Free Papua Movement, or OPM, for almost two months now.
Yudo said the use of a military operation risks civilian casualties and could be politicized by the rebels.
Philip Mark Mehrtens, a pilot for Indonesian airline Susi Air, was abducted by fighters of the West Papua National Liberation Army, the military wing of the OPM, during an attack at Paro Airport in Nduga Regency in the Indonesian eastern province on February 7.
"We are ready for the rescue task but I will continue with the persuasive power with the help of religious and community leaders and also the local government," Yudo told reporters at the military headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta.
"The Nduga regent asked me yesterday to stick to the persuasive approach. We can conduct a military operation and we have professional soldiers capable of doing just that, but it will risk casualties among civilians," he added.
A military operation may also provide a political benefit to the abductors because if anything happens to the pilot, they can put the blame on the Indonesian Military.
"If I order a military operation, they will – as what I monitored from conversations – say just shoot him and let the military receive the blame," Yudo said without going into details.
A peaceful attempt to rescue the hostage may take a long time but he said that according to the latest photo released by the rebels, the pilot is in good condition.
"It's not easy to reach the location, no land vehicles can go there. [The rebels] also took days to reach the location," Yudo said.