A New Zealand pilot has been taken hostage by separatist fighters in Indonesia’s Papua region.

Mr Mehrtens, 37, was taken after his plane carrying five passengers was attacked after it landed in the remote mountainous province of Nduga.

His abductors, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), have told BBC Indonesian he is “safe”.

But they say they won’t release him until the independence of West Papua is recognised.

The five passengers who were also onboard, including a child, had been released because they were native Papuans, Sebby Sambom, a TPNPB spokesman, told BBC Indonesian.

Indonesian authorities say they are deploying a search and rescue team. But police noted it was logistically difficult because the remote area can only be reached by air.

Meanwhile New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the country’s embassy in Jakarta was “working on the case”. The foreign ministry had earlier said it was “well aware” of the situation.

The small passenger plane, which belongs to Indonesia’s Susi Air, had departed from the Mozes Kilangin airport in Central Papua early on Tuesday, and was meant to return a few hours later after dropping off the passengers in Nduga.


A TPNPB spokesman told BBC Indonesian that Mr Mehrtens had been moved to a stronghold district for the group in a remote area, and he would be used as “leverage” in political negotiations.

“The pilot is safe. That is our responsibility… We take him as our hostage in a remote area,” said Mr Samborn.

But he added the group would hold Mr Mehrtens captive until countries “like New Zealand and Australia” took responsibility for their role in the ongoing historical conflict and violence in Papua.

Papuan rebels seeking independence from Indonesia have previously issued threats and even attacked aircraft they believe to be carrying personnel and supplies for Jakarta.

The resource-rich region has been caught in a battle for independence since it was brought under Indonesia’s control in a UN-supervised vote in 1969.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian authorities have been common since, with pro-independence fighters mounting more frequent attacks since 2018.

The region is a former Dutch colony divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. It is separate from Papua New Guinea, which was given independence by Australia in 1975.


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