Jayapura, Jubi – The search for New Zealand Susi Air pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens, who was taken hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) led by Egianus Kogoya, has entered day eight. Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Mathius Fakhiri said his party had sent a negotiation team consisting of indigenous people and several influential figures in Nduga Regency to meet the armed group.
Fakhiri said the team had walked to the location where Mehrtens was held hostage. “Please give us time as the team went there on foot. It will take one to two days to cross the river and pass through such difficult topography. We hope they can arrive safely,” Fakhiri said in a written statement received by Jubi on Tuesday, February 14, 2023.
On February 7, the TPNPB set fire to a Susi Air plane with call sign PK-BVY that landed in Paro District. TPNPB also claimed to have captured and held hostage the pilot of the plane, Philip Mark Mehrtens.
Fakhiri hopes that communication can be established between the negotiation team and Kogoya’s group, so that Philip Mark Mehrtens can be released immediately.
He also hopes that the involvement of the Nduga Regency Government in the search for Philip Mark Mehrtens will turn fruitful. “We ask for help from the Nduga Regent and his people because they know the Nduga area best. They are ready to help, and there are also lawmakers who joined the team to negotiate with the TPNPB,” Fakhiri said.
Meanwhile, Susi Air Operations Director Melinasary emphasized that the burning of Susi Air aircraft and the hostage taking of Philip Mark Mehrtens would not make Susi Air withdraw from Papua. According to her, Susi Air has been assisting development in Papua since 2006, pioneering flights and providing health assistance and medicines for the community.
“With this incident, we will not stop flying in the Papua region. But please give us protection,” said Melinasary.
Melinasary also stated that Susi Air will provide support in the searchin of Philip Mark Mehrtens. “We have provided flights for the search process and logistical assistance in the form of food in the search for our pilot,” she said.
On Tuesday, TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom released photos and videos of the Susi Air plane burning. Sambom also released a video showing Philip Mark Mehrtens with TPNPB Ndugama leader Egianus Kogoya.
“TPNPB has officially released photos and videos with the New Zealand pilot, and the pilot is in good health,” said Sambom
He also said that the pilot was a guarantee of political negotiations between TPNPB and Indonesia.
In the video circulating, Philip Mark Mehrtens stood among TPNPB members and stated that Indonesia must recognize Papua’s independence. Also in the video, Egianus Kogoya said his party would release the pilot if Papua was recognized as a free nation. “Indonesia must admit that Papua is independent. We Papuans have long been independent,” Kogoya said. (*)