Jokowi dodges questions on NZ hostage, officials contradict each other over ransom

Source – July 12, 2023
President Widodo speaking to press at Nyoman Nuarta Gallery in Bandung – July 12, 2023 (Kompas)

Dian Erika Nugraheny, Bandung – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo says that there are underground and above ground efforts to free Susi Air pilot Mark Mehrtens who is being held hostage by a Papuan armed criminal group (KKB) – the government’s term for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB).

The president however was reluctant to reveal any details about the efforts being pursued by the government.

"We really don't want to say much because we can't reveal our efforts to the public. Every angle [is being pursued], we're using all channels", Widodo said when giving an explanation to the press at the Nuarta Nyoman Gallery in West Bandung, West Java, on Wednesday July 12.

"So the efforts we're pursuing are really the end point in producing something. But I cannot reveal these efforts, there are underground efforts, there are above ground efforts", he said.

When asked further about developments in the release of Mehrtens, the president again said that the government cannot explain any further. "I can't reveal that", said Widodo.

New Zealand pilot Mehrtens has been held hostage by a KKB group led by Egianus Kogoya since February 7. Recently, it was reported that the KKB had asked for a 5 billion rupiah ransom in exchange for the release of Mehrtens.

Papua Regional Police Public Relations Division Head Senior Commissioner Ignatius Benny Ady Prabowo said that the ransom money would be agreed to through the negotiation process.

He said that the regional government (Pemda) is in the process of preparing the money requested by Kogoya.

"Actually, related to this, Pemda officials have been preparing the payment of the money from the start when there were demands by the Egianus Kogoya group. Not long after the hostage taking, in the first video that appeared, there was a demand on the Indonesian government for an amount of money, weapons, even food and medical supplies", said Prabowo as quoted by Kompas TV on Sunday July 2.

"At that time (the request) was for 5 billion rupiah, the amount can be agreed to later in the negotiation process. But since we tried to open communication and up until now the Egianus groups has never been open to negotiations with us", he said.

However there was no explanation with regard to which regional government he was referring to.

TNI (Indonesian military) commander Marshal Yudo Margono meanwhile said that he believes that there is nothing wrong with the government agreeing to a 5 billion rupiah ransom for Mehrtens' release.

Margono is of the view that meeting the ransom demand is a humanitarian endeavor for the sake of saving the life of the New Zealand pilot and people in the area where Mehrtens is being held.

"What's clear is that it's for peace and humanity, moreover it relates to human life, both the pilot's as well as local people, meaning it doesn't matter what the price is", said Margono at the Vice-Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Tuesday July 4.

Papua Regional Police Chief Inspector General Mathius Fakhiri however said that the KKB group led by Kogoya has never asked for a ransom. "As I have already conveyed, Egianus and his group have never asked for money", said Fakhiri in Jayapura on Monday July 10.

According to Fakhiri, they once directed the acting regent of Nduga to prepare an amount of money in the event that the negotiation process bore fruit.

And most recently, Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs Mahfud MD has also spoken out about the 5 billion rupiah to release Mehrtens. Mahfud said he does not know anything about a ransom.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Soal Pembebasan Pilot Susi Air, Jokowi: Ada Upaya Bawah Tanah, Atas Tanah".]