Calling Benny Wenda an 'agent of capitalism', OPM rejects call to release NZ pilot

CNN Indonesia – February 23, 2023
Susi Air pilot Phillip Mehrtens pictured with TPNPB fighters – February 15, 2023 (istimewa)

Jakarta – West Papua National Liberation Army-Free Papua Movement (TPNPB-OPM) spokesperson Sebby Sambom has responded to a request by the chairperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Benny Wenda, to release Susi Air pilot Phillip Mehrtens who is being held hostage by the OPM.

"Benny Wenda is not a revolutionary fighter. Benny Wenda is an agent of western capitalism who makes a living in Europe by selling the Papua independence issue", said Sambom when contacted on Thursday February 23.

"Who is he anyway? That person is of no use. He is a useless man", he added.

Sambom said that the OPM will not release Mehrtens until their demands are met. He also said that the pilot, a New Zealand national, is in good condition and healthy. "He's healthy and well", said Sambom.

Earlier, Wenda urged the OPM to release Mehrtens, who has been held hostage by the group since he was abducted two weeks ago.

"New Zealand is a strong supporter of West Papua. I think the West Papua National Liberation Army group won't harm the pilot except if Indonesia takes advantage of the situation and it becomes dangerous. This is what is of concern to me", Wenda told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on Tuesday February 21.

Wenda blames the Indonesian government for Mehrtens' abduction. According to Wenda, the incident occurred because the Indonesian government continues to ignore human rights violations in Papua and refuses to give permission for the United Nations human rights commissioner to visit Indonesia's eastern-most province.

TNI (Indonesian military) Commander Martial Yudo Margono meanwhile said that rescuing Mehrtens cannot be done directly through a military operation, but must be done using persuasive methods.

"We are still carrying this out together with the TNI and Polri [the Indonesian police], this is indeed a process of law enforcement, we cannot immediately carry out a military operation and of course we are continuing to prioritise law enforcement. This is because the foreigner has been taken hostage by a KKB [armed criminal group] so we will of course continue to try and use persuasive methods", said Margono in Bali on Wednesday February 22.

Margono also said that negotiations to secure Mehrtens' release are being pursued by parties from the regional government and religious and social figures.

"We have carried out negotiations, we are prioritising this through the regional government and religious figures and social figures. We cannot resolve this though military means such as a direct attack, not that", he said. (yoa/wis)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "OPM Tolak Permintaan Benny Wenda Bebaskan Pilot Susi Air: Dia Siapa?".]