Separatists in the Papua region of Indonesia have taken a New Zealand pilot captive after setting fire to a small commercial plane that landed in a remote highland area on Tuesday. A statement by the pro-independence group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), claimed responsibility for the attack. The TPNPB stated that the pilot, Captain Philip Merthens, will only be released once the Indonesian government recognizes the independence of West Papua.
The incident is being investigated by authorities, with police and military personnel sent to the area to locate the pilot and the five passengers who were traveling with him. The plane, operated by Susi Air, was attacked by rebels after landing safely early on Tuesday. The TPNPB has not mentioned the fate of the passengers, and this is the second time the group has taken a hostage, the first being in 1996.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed that consular support was being provided but declined to provide further details. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on the situation. The conflict for independence in the easternmost provinces of Indonesia has escalated since 2018, with pro-independence fighters mounting more frequent and deadly attacks.
In conclusion, the situation is concerning, and the safety of the pilot and passengers remains unknown. The New Zealand embassy in Jakarta is leading the response, while the Indonesian authorities are working to locate the hostages and resolve the situation.