New Zealand pilot taken hostage in Papua


Reuters Jakarta   ●   Tue, February 7, 2023 Separatist fighters in Papua region have taken a New Zealand pilot hostage after setting a small commercial plane alight when it landed in a remote highland area on Tuesday, a pro-independence group said in a statement. 

A police spokesperson in Papua province, Sr. Comr. Ignatius Benny Adi Prabowo, said authorities were investigating the incident, with police and military personnel sent to the area to locate the pilot and five passengers.  

"We cannot send many personnel there because Nduga is a difficult area to reach. We can only go there by plane," he said. A military spokesperson in Papua, Lt. Col. Herman Taryaman, said the pilot had been identified as Captain Philip Merthens and it was unclear if the five accompanying passengers had also been abducted.  The plane operated by Susi Air landed safely early on Tuesday morning, before being attacked by rebel fighters, authorities said. 

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement seen by Reuters, saying the pilot would not be released until theIndonesian government acknowledged the independence of West Papua. 

The TPNPB made no mention of the passengers, but said this was the second time the group had taken a hostage. The first incident was in 1996. The New Zealand embassy in Jakarta and the Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment Susi Air founder and former fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said on Twitter she was praying for the safety of the pilot and passengers. 

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