Seven months after being taken hostage, OPM gives assurances NZ pilot still alive

CNN Indonesia – September 14, 2023
Susi Air pilot Philip Mehrtens pictured with TPNPB freedom fighters – February 2023 (Istimewa)

Jakarta – The West Papua National Liberation Army-Free Papua Movement (TPNPB-OPM) has confirmed that the Susi Air pilot from New Zealand, Philip Mark Mehrtens, who was taken hostage by the group in early February, is still alive.

"The pilot is living with people, right, humans, [he's] still alive", said TPNPB-OPM spokesperson Sebby Sambom when contacted on Thursday September 14.

Sambom also revealed the reason why the group is no longer routinely publishing information on Mehrtens' condition. He said that the decision was made because there has yet to be any efforts at negotiations by the Indonesian or New Zealand governments to release Mehrtens.

"Because they don't want to negotiate with us. So it's just been left as is", said Sambom.

Mehrtens was taken hostage by militia who are referred to by the government as an armed criminal group (KKB) on February 7 moments after he landed his aircraft at the Paro airfield in Nduga regency in the Papua Highlands.

On several occasions the group has published photographs or videos of Mehrtens. On May 26, the KKB release a video showing Mehrtens' condition. The New Zealand national said that the KKB would shoot him if there were no negotiations within the next two months.

Cenderawasih/XVII Regional Military Commander Major General Izak Pangemanan said recently that they were prioritising peaceful means to secure Mehrtens' release.

Pangemanan said that the TNI (Indonesian military) is continuing to communicate with religious figures, tradition community leaders, youth and women figures to assist in the negotiations to free Mehrtens.

"All of them support the TNI's efforts in this search. We are still working on negotiations because the TNI has chosen a path of peace in solving all problems in Papua, including in the pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens hostage case", he said.

Pangemanan also said he hopes that there will be no casualties either from the TNI, Indonesian police or civilians in the efforts to free Mehrtens.

"I hope the negotiations by all elements can proceed well. Hopefully as soon as possible this can be resolved as we are all hoping", he said. (yoa/wis)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "7 Bulan Penyanderaan, OPM Jamin Pilot Susi Air Masih Hidup".]