Indonesia denies using air strikes in Papua region, where kidnapped NZ pilot is

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - JAKARTA, April 13 — Indonesia’s military on Saturday denied using air strikes in a remote, restive part of the country, after a video of a New Zealand pilot kidnapped by Papuan rebels featured him saying military actions had made his position unsafe.

An armed faction of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), led by Egianus Kogoya, kidnapped the pilot, Phillip Mehrtens, on February 7, 2023 after he landed a small commercial plane in the remote, mountainous area of Nduga.

Nugraha Gumilar, the spokesperson for Indonesia’s military, said the rebel group is “always reporting hoax news”, after the rebels claimed the military had been dropping bombs onto civilian areas.

Indonesia’s military is still trying to save the New Zealand pilot, Gumilar added.

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In a video released by TPNPB this week, Mehrtens, who is surrounded by the armed Papua rebels and wearing a dark brown t-shirt and boots, said he is “not safe” following the claimed air strikes.

“Before I was in the safe area, but have been taken again by the Papua military, and it’s not so safe for me anymore,” he said.

Kogoya of TPNPB, said in a statement that it demanded the Indonesia’s military to stop dropping bombs with a helicopter, calling it a “very unbalanced” action.

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The rebel group also said it will only release the New Zealand pilot through a negotiation facilitated by the United Nations.

In response to the new development, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said the government is doing everything it can to secure a peaceful resolution and Mehrtens’ safe release, including working closely with Indonesian authorities.

A low-level but increasingly deadly battle for independence has been waged in the resource-rich western half of the island of Papua since it was controversially brought under Indonesian control in a vote overseen by the United Nations in 1969. — Reuters

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