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A pilot from New Zealand who was abducted in a secluded jungle has sent a devastating message to his wife and son, one year after being taken by guerrillas.
Philip Mark Mehrtens, a 38-year-old former Jetstar pilot, appeared gaunt and scruffy in the hostage video released by the West Papua Liberation Army who kidnapped him in February 2023.
Mr. Mehrtens was apprehended upon touchdown at Paro Airport in the isolated highlands of the Nduga regency in Papua. This area has been a focal point of a separatist conflict against Indonesia for many years.
The video shows a worried Mr. Mehrtens stating, “I am doing okay, they are treating me with care. I am trying to remain optimistic and I hope that you and Jacob are in good health and receiving support.”
“I have deep affection for both of you and I miss you both greatly. I hope we can connect and chat soon,” he expressed.
On December 22, 2023, the footage was recorded and it was only recently shared by the rebels after weeks of waiting. Mr. Mehrtens clarified that he had a meeting with the “komandant”, who is most likely commander Egianus Kogoya, leading the fight against the Indonesian takeover of the area.
The pilot mentioned discussing with the commander the possibility of contacting his family by phone. It is uncertain if the call was ultimately made.
This development follows closely after the insurgent organization announced that they requested for Commander Kogoya to free Mr. Mehrtens.
“The TPNPB spokesperson, Sebby Sambom, stated that it is highly unlikely for the pilot to serve as a guarantee for an autonomous Papua at a predetermined price.”
According to Mr. Sambom, there is no previous occurrence of a similar trade. He implored Kogoya to take back his previous remarks and release the pilot.
He stated that there is no record in the world of a country gaining independence through exchanging a hostage.
Papua, a country that is the third largest island in the world and rich in resources, was previously a colony of the Netherlands. However, it was controversially taken over by Indonesia in 1969 through a vote that was heavily criticized and overseen by the United Nations.
The eastern regions of the country have been engaged in a minor struggle for self-rule, but tensions have risen drastically since 2018, with separatist militants carrying out more deadly assaults.
In July 2022, a group of separatist gunmen murdered a minimum of 10 traders and a native Papuan. In March, insurgents also killed eight technicians who were working on fixing a distant telecommunications tower.