Wellington, May 27 (IANS) Rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region have threatened to shoot a New Zealand pilot who they took hostage in February, if their demand to begin independence talks within two months was not met, the media reported on Saturday.
Captain Phillip Mehrtens, 37, was kidnapped by the West Papua National Liberation Army fighters (TPNPB) shortly after he landed a Susi Air commercial plane in the mountainous area of Nduga.
The TPNPB — the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement — has claimed of carrying out several attacks in an effort to free Papua from Indonesia.
The Indonesian government has labelled the group as a terrorist organisation.
The warning came in a new video released by the group on Friday, which shows Mehrtens holding the banned ‘Morning Star’ flag — a symbol of Papuan independence, Sky News reported.
The pilot says that separatists want countries other than Indonesia to engage in dialogue on Papuan independence.
“If it does not happen within two months then they say they will shoot me,” the pilot is quoted as saying.
Neither the Indonesian government or the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta have responded to the video.
Previously, the Indonesian government had said that they were trying to negotiate the pilot’s release, but have failed to do so since access to the region is quite difficult.
The pilot was helping in the evacuation of 15 construction workers who had been threatened with death while building a health centre in the remote district.
While the workers were released because they were from Papua, Merthens, originally from Christchurch, was taken hostage by the rebels.
West Papua is Indonesia’s easternmost territory. It is the western half of New Guinea, the world’s second largest island after Greenland, with Papua New Guinea (PNG) comprising the eastern half, reports the BBC.
PNG was granted independence from Australia in 1975.
West Papua has had a special autonomous status since 2001. Since June 2022, it has been divided into five provinces.
The resource-rich area includes the world’s largest mine, as well as extensive sources of , minerals, timber and palm oil.