New Zealand hostage pilot appears in photos with armed West Papua rebels

Separatist fighters in Indonesia’s restive Papua region have released a series of images showing a pilot from New Zealand who was taken hostage more than a week ago.

The photos released on Tuesday show the pilot, identified by local police as Philip Mehrtens, standing fully clothed and apparently uninjured among a group of fighters who are holding guns, bows and arrows and other weapons.

Mehrtens was captured after landing a commercial Susi Air charter flight at Paro Airport in the remote highlands of the Nduga regency last week, with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claiming responsibility and saying it had burned his plane.

The group previously demanded that all incoming flights to Paro Airport be stopped and said the pilot would not be released until the Indonesian government acknowledged Papuan independence.

The TPNPB released the photos of Mehrtens on its Facebook page along with a statement reiterating its position.

“TPNPB has admitted the responsibility for the burning of the plane and taking hostage of a Susi Air pilot who is a citizen of New Zealand, and we keep our promise and are politically responsible,” it said in the statement.