TPNPB orders the release of kidnapped New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens

Hope has emerged after the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) ordered the release of a New Zealand pilot held captive for a year. Phillip Mehrtens was kidnapped in February 2023 by a TPNPB group led by Egianus Kogoya, sparking international concern and highlighting the ongoing conflict in the region.

The order was made public in a press release dated 7 February 2024, stating that “the Management of the Central Headquarters of the National Command, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) will return the pilot Philip Max Martherns to his family…” The TPNPB leadership cited “humanity and human rights” as reasons for the release, though the timing remains unclear. They plan to hand Mehrtens over to his family through the United Nations, but various actors have raised concerns if Kogoya will comply.

The TPNPB’s order for release comes amidst a complex and tense situation. There are internal discrepancies within the TPNPB, and it’s unclear if Egianus Kogoya will follow the central command’s orders. Besides, the Indonesian police remain skeptical about the sincerity of the release announcement, viewing it as a possible attention-grabbing tactic. Further complicating matters are the geopolitical intricacies and the heavy security force presence in the region. New Zealand and Australia, major players, choose to remain uninvolved, respecting Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua despite independence aspirations there. The conflict in Nduga, where Kogoya operates, has led to internal displacementviolence, and a humanitarian crisis. Mehrtens’s captivity exemplifies the region’s struggles.

Despite the uncertainties, the TPNPB’s order offers a potential turning point in this long-standing hostage situation.