Indonesia has revealed its security forces were about to launch a rescue mission for a pilot held hostage in Papua but New Zealand authorities asked them to abandon their plans in order to avoid violence.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Mahfud Mahmodin, said his forces knew the exact location of New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens, who was captured two weeks ago by separatist rebels after he landed a plane in Papua’s remote highlands.
Soldiers almost moved in to attack the rebels from the West Papua National Liberation Army, until New Zealand authorities requested there be no acts of violence to free its citizens, he said.
New Zealand’s government wanted to prioritise the Susi Air pilot’s safety, and a military attack could become an international matter.
Instead, Indonesia will negotiate with the rebels to release the pilot, Mr Mahmodin said.
The rebels said they were refusing to release Mr Mehrtens until Indonesia grants independence to the Papua region.
Mr Mahmodin said he understood New Zealand’s decision.
“We already knew the place [where the pilot was being detained], at what coordinate points, but as soon as we were about to move, the New Zealand government came here asking for no acts of violence,” the minister said.
“Therefore, we are still waiting, hopefully there will be a resolution soon.”
Papua police chief Mathius Faakhiri told Indonesian media Mr Mehrtens was in “good health”.
“Currently, pilot Philip is still in the hands of the KKB [the Papuan armed group] led by Egianus Kogoya and is in good health,” he said.
Mr Faakhiri said authorities were still prioritising negotiations in order to avoid violence and casualties.
He said the priority was the safety of the pilot and the members of military and police involved.
Rebels push for UN talks
The West Papua National Liberation Army, or TPNPB, wants the UN Secretary General involved.
The rebel group has also demanded New Zealand and Australia stop exporting military equipment to Indonesia.
Akoubou Amatus Douw, an Australia-based spokesperson for the TPNPB, told the ABC they wanted the UN to mediate talks between New Zealand, Indonesia and TPNPB.
“That’s our position at the moment,” he said.
“He [Mr Mehrtens] is part of our … people in the Pacific. We like to, you know, save his life. We respect human values, human rights for every individuals, according to the United Nations charter.”
Violence between Papuan separatist groups and Indonesian security forces has escalated in recent months.
Indonesia’s Papuan provinces were under Dutch control until the 1960s, and then incorporated into Indonesia after a United Nations-sponsored vote that many Papuans say was a sham.
A low-level insurgency has festered ever since.