Pilot Held Hostage By Papuan Rebels


Separatist rebels in Papua have released photos of an apparently healthy pilot they took hostage a week ago. Philip Mehrtens, a New Zealander, landed his Susi Air charter flight at Paro Airport in a fractious area of the Indonesian territory on Feb. 7. He was seized at gunpoint by members of the West Papual National Liberation Army (TPNPB) who then torched his airplane. There were five passengers on the flight but there has been no word about what happened to them. The rebels have been demanding that flights to Paro cease and say they won’t release Mehrtens until they gain independence from Indonesia.

The group claimed responsibility in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “TPNPB has admitted the responsibility for the burning of the plane and taking hostage of a Susi Air pilot who is a citizen of New Zealand, and we keep our promise and are politically responsible,” it said in the statement. Indonesia has controlled the region since 1969 and the rebels have been fighting it ever since. Indonesia considers the TPNPB to be a terrorist organization. New Zealand isn’t commenting.

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  1. Gotta wonder how these folks intend to live on after their fight. If I were a sailor, I wouldn’t be interested in going to their little hell hole. So, I hope they have all the things they need in their own island.
    They might want to ask the folks in North Korea how well things will be after they aggravate the rest of the world in their attempts at independence.

  2. Well, Eric, it’s a crime that Indonesia is in West Papua; they basically just annexed it. Having worked (flown) in PNG both before and after independence I can tell you the Papuans have a wonderful culture and are happy people. I don’t blame the TPNPB for their action and anyone who is familiar with their grievances would agree.
    Cameron, what do you suggest NZ (my country) do? Send in the SAS? What would you think of another country’s special forces encroaching in the U.S. in a similar scenario?
    Diplomacy (obviously) is what’s required here.

    • I REALLY have zero opinion on the justification for the conflict. Totally, not my point. They could have the most just cause for war in human history.

      Kidnapping civilians bringing other civilians or freight when you know they are likely being told by the recognized government it’s allowed is neither civil, nor wise. There’s this modern delusion that if your cause is just, nothing else matters. Well, that’s dirt.

      There’s no accusation this flight was involved in the conflict? There’s no sign that these animals intend to apply any sort of reasonable justice? Perhaps this story left those things out? If not, they are acting like infantile hoodlums. “Because we say so”, is no way to run a country. if they want to be able to join the world after they win, then they ought to start playing like they are living in the 21st century (which doesn’t mean using FB for your communications platform). If they do not intend to win, they are indeed just thugs.

    • Having also lived on the island for a number of years, and worked with and knowing a lot of pilots on both sides of the border with MAF and other groups, I’m really confused why this is an international news story.
      In my experience, foreigners were routinely held for “ransom” in a very unorganized way, but I don’t remember anyone ever thinking it was newsworthy. I’m not knocking the place, these are my “wontoks” and I feel true kinship with my “ples” (my adopted village), but holy eff, the Papua highlands are insanely dangerous. I loved living there and my local friends, but anyone working there knows the deal. Generally, you give these “kidnappers” a cartons of cigs and some rockgut and your “hostage” situation goes away. It’s not like you got snagged by Hezbollah or something. Maybe you lost a finger to gangrene like that Japanese volunteer, but no biggie…

      The Indonesian side of the island is a lot better off (health, education, water, electricity, roads) but still unbelievably remote and poor, and the influence of so called “western civilization” did not come at all until the 70’s. The Indonesian gov’t says there are still officially 40 tribes who have never seen metal, ice, lightbulbs, the wheel, etc. Even tribes “in contact”, live in villages are surrounded by mountains, so there’s either a 4 day walk or a 13 minute flight in a Caravan from rough airstrip hacked into the mountainside to get anywhere.
      So when they see any white guy, folks often lump him with the Aussies or those Chevron POS who have pillaged their resources of an island with just about every natural resource you can think of. Where I lived (on the other side of the arbitrary border line but also up in the highlands with the same folks), expats were routinely hacked with dull machetes, held at gun point, gang raped, etc. etc. These are not crazy third-hand stories, this is what I saw – they did horrible things to the nuns at my school and my coworker/friend who later took her own like from the trauma.
      So they do have an interesting culture which in many ways, except for cannibalism, is unchanged for 10,000 yrs. The West Papuans are indeed getting genocided by Javanization of Indonesians and have a valid point to make. But this “kidnapping”‘ story makes as much senses as a shocking “news flash” that I got mugged when I lived in Philly; I mean it kind of goes with the territory. Someone is going to try to shake your organization (NGO, church mission, Peace Corps, etc) down for some $$ if you live/work there. They always have some reason. That’s just how they roll…