New Zealand pilot held hostage by separatist fighters in Indonesia

A pilot from New Zealand has been taken hostage by separatist fighters in the peaceful Indonesian region of Papua, after setting his plane on fire. the group said in a statement.

The pilot, identified by local police as Philip Merthans, was arrested after the commercial charter flight landed at Paro Airport in the remote mountainous region of Nduga Regency. on Tuesday.

Papua Police Chief Inspector Mathis Fakhiri told reporters on Tuesday that the Susi Air flight was carrying five passengers, including a child, but it was still unclear what happened to them.

A search team consisting of police and army personnel has been sent to the area.

On Tuesday, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) said it had set fire to the plane at the airport and “captured” the pilot before taking him hostage.

“He is our second hostage,” TPNPB commander spokesman Eganus Kogeya said in a statement, referring to a 1996 incident when the Free Papua Movement took 26 members of a wildlife research mission hostage in a neighboring district. . of Mapenduma. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), some hostages were held for more than four months.

In the statement, Agnes also demanded that all flights to Paro airport be grounded and said the pilot would not be released until the Indonesian government recognized Papuan independence.

The Indonesian government considers the TPNPB a terrorist group.

New Zealand government officials said they were “aware of the situation of the New Zealand pilot in Papua” and that the New Zealand embassy in Jakarta was providing consular assistance to the family.

Susie Pudjiastuti, founder of Susie Air said on Twitter That she was praying for the safety of the pilot and passengers.

Separatist fighters in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua have been demanding independence since the region was brought under Indonesian control after a disputed 1969 vote overseen by the United Nations.

However, fighting in the impoverished but resource-rich region, where Indonesia maintains a heavy military presence, has escalated in recent years.

Human rights organizations in the region have condemned the attack.

“We demand that the pilot and the hostages be released immediately and safely. We call on the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law,” said Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

He said the incident showed that civilians were the target of “recurring violence in Papua territory”.

He added that all parties should prioritize non-violence to save civilians.

Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said hostage-taking is a crime.

“The National Liberation Army for West Papua must immediately and unconditionally release all hostages in Nduga,” Harsono said.

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