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Government pursues church diplomacy in efforts to free abducted Kiwi pilot

Jakarta Globe - February 29, 2024

Antara, Jakarta – The Indonesian government is intensifying its efforts to free Susi Air Pilot Captain Philip Mark Mehrtens, a New Zealand national currently held captive by the TPNPB (West Papua National Liberation Army) separatist group.

Newly appointed Chief Security Minister Hadi Tjahjanto held discussions with community leaders from Nduga Regency in the Papua Mountains Province on Wednesday. He revealed that a church-based approach is being explored to facilitate the release of Captain Philip, with the help of three community leaders from Nduga.

"This church-based approach is seen as a potential avenue for securing the release of pilot Philip Mehrtens due to the majority Christian population in Papua, both Protestant and Catholic," Hadi stated during a meeting at the Muhammadiyah Central Office in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Wednesday.

Although the technical details of the church-based approach were not disclosed, Hadi emphasized that the initiative is currently in the planning stage and has not been implemented.

"This is still under discussion, and we hope that actions can be taken in the field based on these discussions," remarked Hadi.

The Muhammadiyah Central Board has voiced its endorsement for the church-based approach, hoping that it will help prevent bloodshed.

"We agree with this approach, and we believe that any peaceful, non-military method would be more acceptable to the Papua community," stated Abdul Mu'ti, Secretary-General of Muhammadiyah, after a meeting with the Chief Security Minister.

Mu'ti emphasized the appropriateness of this approach considering the majority of the Papua population follows Christianity. Using religious channels, particularly the church, is anticipated to be more acceptable to the community, including the members of the separatist group.

On Tuesday, New Zealand Police Attache, Paul Laurence Borell, visited Mimika Regency in Central Papua, to oversee the progress of the ongoing efforts to secure the release of Susi Air pilot, Captain Philip Mark Mehrtens.

Nduga Police Chief, Vinsensius Jimmy Parapaga assured that the hostage release efforts would continue and remain a top priority.

"The negotiation process was briefly hindered by widespread media coverage," Vinsensius told Borell and reporters on Tuesday.

Philip Mehrtens was abducted in February 2023 after landing his Susi Air aircraft in the remote Nduga region of Papua.

In a video message sent to his family earlier this year, the 38-year-old man appeared emaciated and neglected. The video was presumably recorded by separatist group TPNPB commander Egianus Kogoya, who orchestrated the burning of Mehrtens' plane and his abduction.

"I'm okay. They treat me well. I try to stay positive. I hope you and Jacob are healthy and well and getting support. When we meet again, the commander said we can try to call through WiFi," Mehrtens conveyed in the message to his wife and son.

The Indonesian military has been conducting operations in the mountainous Nduga region to locate Mehrtens after his single-engine plane was attacked by the armed group. Six Indonesian soldiers were killed in a firefight with separatists during the search for the New Zealand national.

On Feb. 2, TPNPB spokesperson Sebby Sambom said the central headquarters of TPNPB has agreed to release Philip.

Source: https://jakartaglobe.id/news/government-pursues-church-diplomacy-in-efforts-to-free-abducted-kiwi-pilo