Mr. Mehrtens, age 37, was kidnapped after the plane he was flying in, which also contained five other people, was ambushed shortly after landing in the isolated mountainous region of Nduga.
According to his captors, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), he is “safe.” This information was provided to BBC Indonesian.
On the other hand, they claim that they won’t free him until the independence of West Papua is acknowledged.
According to BBC Indonesian, a representative for the Papuan National Police Bureau (TPNBB) named Sebby Sambom said that the five passengers who were also onboard, including a kid, had been released because they were indigenous Papuans.
The authorities in Indonesia have announced that they will be sending out a search and rescue team. However, the police reported that it was a difficult task to carry out due to the distant location and the fact that it could only be reached by air.
While this was going on, Chris Hipkins, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, stated that his country’s embassy in Jakarta was “working on the case.” Earlier, the ministry of foreign affairs had stated that it was “fully aware” of the issue.
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The small passenger plane, which belonged to Indonesia’s Susi Air and had taken off from the Mozes Kilangin airport in Central Papua early on Tuesday morning, was scheduled to return to the airport in Central Papua a few hours later after it had dropped off its passengers in Nduga. However, the plane never made it back.
BBC Indonesian was informed by a spokeswoman for the TPNPB that Mr. Mehrtens had been relocated to a stronghold region for the group in a distant area and that he would be used as “leverage” in political negotiations.
“There is no danger to the pilot. That is all dependent upon us… In a remote location, we kidnap him and hold him as a prisoner,” as Mr. Samborn put it.
But he went on to say that the gang planned to keep Mr. Mehrtens as a hostage until countries “like New Zealand and Australia” accepted responsibility for their part in the ongoing historical strife and brutality in Papua.
In the past, Papuan separatists who are fighting for independence from Indonesia have issued threats and even attacked aircraft that they believe are carrying men and supplies for Jakarta.
Since a vote in 1969 that was overseen by the United Nations brought the resource-rich province under Indonesia’s authority, it has been embroiled in a conflict over whether or not to declare its independence.
Since then, clashes between indigenous Papuans and the government of Indonesia have been increasingly prevalent, with pro-independence forces launching more frequent attacks since 2018.
Papua and West Papua are the names of the two provinces that make up this formerly Dutch-controlled territory. It is an independent nation distinct from Papua New Guinea, which gained its independence from Australia in 1975.