Chilling footage released of pilot taken hostage by villagers with bow and arrows after he landed in remote area
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WARNING: This article contains footage that some might find distressing
Chilling footage has been released showing a pilot who was taken hostage by villagers with bows and arrows after he landed in a remote area.
New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens was seized by Papuan separatists after landing his single-engine plane in the remote highlands of Nduga, situated in the Indonesian province of Highland Papua.
The region has been at the centre of an ongoing conflict following the 1969 ruling that made Western New Guinea, also known as Papua, part of Indonesia.
Members of The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM), intercepted the aircraft last week.
Part of TPNPB's battle for independence includes fighting Indonesian-backed infrastructure projects in the region.
Mehrtens plane, which was carrying five passengers, was set to pick up 15 construction workers who had been building a health centre in Paro.
Although the rebels set the other passengers free, they lit the aircraft on fire and are holding the pilot hostage.
Nduga district chief Namia Gwijangge, one of the five travelling on the plane, said: "Our plan to evacuate the workers angered the rebels, who responded by setting fire to the plane and seizing the pilot.
"We deeply regret this incident."
Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom shared photos and videos with the press on Tuesday (14 February), showing Mehrtens with the separatists as they hold rifles, spears and bows and arrows.
Sambom explained that the others were released as they are indigenous Papuans.
In one clip, the group's leader Egianus Kogoya says: "I took him hostage for Papua independence, not for food or drinks.
"He will be safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its arms, either from the air or on the ground."
Though the 37-year-old pilot is originally from Christchurch, he had been working for Indonesian airline Susi Air.
Police and government officials in the capital of Jakarta are making efforts to try and free Mehrtens.
Mohammad Mahfud, the minister for political, security and legal affairs, said, "Taking civilians hostage for any reason is unacceptable."
He explained that while authorities are involved in negotiations with the separatists, the 'government does not rule out other efforts'.
Mahfud added: "Papua will forever remain a legitimate part of the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia."
A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Al Jazeera: "We are aware of the photos and video circulating but won’t be commenting further at this stage."