Philip Mehrtens appears in the video wearing a denim jacket, military hat, and shorts. Around him, in an area full of bushes, there is a group of men with painted faces and feathers in their hats. Some hold assault rifles. Others are armed with bows and arrows. Looking at the camera, Mehrtens, a 37-year-old New Zealand pilot kidnapped by Indonesian separatist fighters, says the phrase in his native language that his captors have forced him to memorize: "The Papuan army has taken me captive in their fight for independence ".
In the easternmost part of Indonesia is a province called West Papua, a former Dutch colony and bordering the independent state of Papua New Guinea, which has been a hotbed of fighting between armed indigenous rebels and the Indonesian military for decades.
The strong separatist movement is led by the Free Papua Movement, which has an armed wing called the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB). They were the ones who captured Mehrtens on Tuesday of last week after the pilot landed in a small commercial plane in a remote mountainous village.
The rebels freed the small group of passengers, five people, all locals, but took the New Zealander away. Later, they set fire to the Susi Air company plane. After several days without news of the pilot, the rebels sent, as "proof of life", several photos and videos to local and international media, such as the BBC.
Mehrtens appears surrounded by fighters. One of them, who introduces himself as Egianus Kogoya, leader of the group, also says in a video that his army agrees to release the pilot if Indonesia recognizes Papua's sovereignty. The separatists say they took the New Zealander because his country cooperates militarily with Indonesia, which West Papua formally joined in 1969 after a controversial UN-supervised referendum.
In contrast, the results were never recognized by the majority Christian Papuans of Melanesian ethnicity, who say they share little or nothing with the rest of their neighbors in Indonesia, which is home to the world's largest Muslim population.
In 2018, the rebels attacked the camp of some Indonesian workers who were working on the construction of a bridge in the mountainous region of Nduga, the same one where the New Zealand pilot has been kidnapped. There was a shootout that ended in a massacre. The combatants killed about twenty workers. They claimed they were spies for Indonesia.
The central government said that the separatist faction of the TPNPB that carried out the massacre was the group led by Egianus Kogoya. "I took him (the pilot) hostage for the independence of Papua, not for food. He will be safe with me as long as Indonesia does not use its weapons, whether from the air or on the ground," Kogoya says in one of the videos released.
The rebel leader last week threatened to kill another 15 workers he took hostage who were working on the construction of a clinic. They should have been picked up by Philip Mehrtens on his return plane. Eventually, the Indonesian security forces managed to rescue them.
According to the criteria of The Trust Project