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New Zealand calls for pilot kidnapped in Papua to be freed

By AFP

February 5, 2024 01:23 PM


Representational image

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters on Monday called for the release of a Kiwi pilot kidnapped a year ago by Papua separatists in Indonesia.

New Zealander Phillip Mehrtens was working for Indonesian airline Susi Air when he was snatched by rebels at Nduga airport on February 7 last year.

Mehrtens was providing vital air links and supplies to remote communities at the time of his abduction, the New Zealand government said.

"We strongly urge those holding Phillip to release him immediately and without harm. His continued detention serves the interests of no one," Peters said in a statement.

"We know that just before Christmas Phillip was able to contact some friends and family to assure them that he is alive and well, however we are still concerned at the length of time he has been held."

Peters said that New Zealand government agencies have been working extensively with Indonesian authorities over the last year to secure Mehrtens' release.

"There can never be any justification for hostage taking," Peters added.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials have also been supporting Mehrtens' family.

"They have requested privacy and I'd ask that their wishes are respected," Peters said.

New Zealand's previous Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who was replaced following general elections last October, had previously called for Mehrtens' release in August, six months after the New Zealander was abducted.

The rebels who kidnapped Mehrtens are from the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) insurgent group.

They had previously demanded that Indonesia recognise Papuan independence in return for the New Zealander's release.

According to the Indonesian army, armed separatists ambushed soldiers searching for Mehrtens in April, killing at least one.

Papua is a former Dutch colony that declared itself independent in 1961. But neighbouring Indonesia took control two years later, promising an independence referendum.

A subsequent vote in favour of remaining part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.


AFP


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