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Indonesia rebels release pics of kidnapped New Zealand pilot after burning plane

Rebels in Indonesia have released footage of the New Zealand pilot they kidnapped last week.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), separatist fighters in Papua, got their hands on Philip Mehrtens, 37, on February 7 after he landed his plane in the remote Nduga region.

They also set fire to his single-engine Susi Air plane.

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This week, the separatists released footage and images of Mehrtens, appearing in sound health but surrounded by men armed with guns and bows.

In one clip, Mehrtens is wearing a t-shirt bearing the West Papua flag and reciting a prepared statement supporting Papua’s independence from Indonesia.

He said: "The Papuan military has taken me captive in their fight for Papuan independence.

"Indonesia must recognise Papua is independent."

Another clip showed a man, who identified himself as TPNPB commander Eganius Kogoya, saying they would kill the pilot if state forces attacked them.

They pledged he will remain "safe" as long as they're not attacked, and that he will be released if Papua is granted independence.

Mehrtens had flown into the region to drop off five passengers (who were released by rebels as they were indigenous Papuans) and was scheduled to pick up construction workers building a health centre after rebels threatened to kill them.

The region is so remote that it is only accessible by plane.

Papua Police Chief Inspector General Mathius D Fakhiri said a team has been deployed to negotiate his release.

However, authorities believe the new footage was recorded immediately after his capture, so he needs to be located first.

Independence conflicts between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian authorities date back to 1969 when Papua, a former Dutch colony, was formally brought under Indonesian rule following a controversial, UN-supervised vote.

That vote came after Indonesia took control of the region by force in 1963, two years after Papua declared itself independent.

According to the BBC, pro-independence fighters have been mounting more frequent attacks since 2018.

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