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Militants squabble over fate of New Zealand pilot on anniversary of his kidnapping


Militant rebels in Indonesia’s restive West Papua are urging their most feared comrade to release a New Zealand pilot held hostage for a year.

A group of armed fighters led by tribal warlord Eganius Koyega kidnapped Phillip Mehrtens on February 7, 2023, after his light plane landed on a delivery run in the rugged highlands of Nduga Regency in the heart of the province.

Mehrtens’ captors initially threatened to kill him unless New Zealand agreed to pressure Indonesia into allowing West Papua to secede from Indonesia, a seemingly impossible demand.

But a year on, that demand seems more distant than ever, and little is known about where Mehrtens is being held or how he’s surviving life in captivity surrounded by armed fighters, led by Koyega.

Rarely pictured without a machine gun, Koyega is a member of the West Papuan National Liberation Army (TPNPB) the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, which seeks independence.

The TPNPB is designated by the Indonesian government as a terrorist organization, and in the past, the group has taken hostages to further their cause.

But Mehrtens has been held for far longer than most captives, and now a rift has emerged between Mehrtens’ captors as to what to do with the 37-year-old husband and father.

In the lead up to the one-year anniversary of Mehrtens’s capture, the TPNPB leadership publicly pressured Koyega to release him “for the sake of humanity.” Koyega has not yet agreed.

“If the pilot dies at the hands of the TPNPB, it will be detrimental to the Papuan people who have been fighting for more than 60 years,” TPNPB Major General Terryanus Satto wrote in a statement on February 3.

West Papua separatist fighters release images of their hostage soon after his capture in