Indonesian Soldiers Killed During Search For Kidnapped Pilot


An unknown number of Indonesian soldiers were killed and as many as 30 are missing after Papuan rebels attacked them during their search for a kidnapped New Zealand pilot. Phillip Mehrtens was taken by gunmen after he landed his Susi Air plane at a remote strip in the rebel-held area of the country in February. His aircraft was set on fire. The Indonesian Army says it sent 36 troops to try to rescue the pilot, but members of the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, apparently ambushed them. The Associated Press is reporting that at least six soldiers died, nine were taken by the rebels and 21 dispersed in the jungle, but the army is only confirming one dead and the rebels say nine were killed.

Shortly after Mehrtens was taken, the rebels demanded Indonesia allow West Papua to become independent. The Indonesians wanted to send in troops to attempt a rescue at the time but New Zealand officials intervened and convinced them to abandon the attempt. Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the rebels, said in a statement the attack was revenge for the killing of two rebels in a shootout with Indonesian soldiers last month. He claimed his group has tried to negotiate with Indonesian and New Zealand but has received no response. The rebels regularly post photos of the young pilot, who appears to be in good health.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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