Indonesian security forces engage rebels holding New Zealand pilot hostage
Indonesian security forces say they have surrounded armed rebels holding a New Zealand pilot captive in the restive Papua region but will refrain from taking any action that could endanger his life. endanger.
Security minister Mahfud MD said on Tuesday that the New Zealand authorities have requested that there be no violence in the operation to free the pilot Philip Mehrtens, according to CNN, a CNN Indonesia affiliate. The pilot was captured last month after he crashed a Susi Air charter plane at the remote Paro Airport, with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claiming responsibility.
“We already know their location. Now they are under siege,” Mahfud told reporters, adding: “We prioritize safety. We have to be careful,” CNN Indonesia reported.
Mahfud did not elaborate on where the group is or what measures the security forces would take.
Indonesia’s military maintains a heavy and controversial presence in Papua, which came under Jakarta’s control after a 1969 referendum under the auspices of the United Nations. Violence in the impoverished but resource-rich region has escalated in recent years as separatist fighters call for independence.
The TNPPB, which has been designated by the Indonesian government as a terrorist group, has previously said that Merthens would not be released until Jakarta recognizes Papuan independence and withdraws its troops. the region, which shares an island with the country of Papua New Guinea.
An additional request from the separatist group for guns and ammunition was rejected by authorities, Mahfud said, according to CNN Indonesia.
Photos released by the TNPPB in February showed an apparently unharmed Mehrtens, standing next to armed fighters.
The operation to rescue him has been complicated by the presence of civilians in the area, the security forces said.
“It is not easy to catch this group because they mix with the local people,” army chief Admiral Yudo Margono told reporters, according to CNN Indonesia. “But we will prioritize persuasion measures. ”