About a week after the kidnapping of a New Zealand pilot in the Indonesian province of Papua, the rebels have published photos of their hostage. The abducted Philip Mehrtens can be seen in the pictures in good health and in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by indigenous people, some of whom are heavily armed. Separatist rebels set fire to a small airliner at Paro Airport in the remote district of Nduga last week and kidnapped the pilot.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the local separatist movement, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Indonesian authorities meanwhile announced negotiations with the rebels. “We hope, with the help of the local government and indigenous community leaders, to be able to get in touch with the kidnappers,” said region police spokesman Benny Adi Prabowo on Thursday.

Repeated violent clashes

The Indonesian-ruled region of Papua in the western half of New Guinea has been the scene of separatist uprisings since the 1960s. The province was annexed to Indonesia in 1969 in a United Nations-sponsored vote. For years there have been repeated violent conflicts in the resource-rich region. The east of the island north of Australia is the independent country of Papua New Guinea.

“We don’t just want to negotiate with the Indonesian government. Every negotiation must be mediated by the international community,” rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said in a voice message to the German Press Agency.

On Tuesday, the TPNPB released a video threatening to kill the pilot if security forces tried to force him out. The Indonesian military confirmed that the hostage was Philip Mehrtens – but at the same time ruled out complying with the rebels’ demands for independence. “Their demands are absurd. We hope that they will recognize their mistake and return to the bosom of the Indonesian republic,” said army spokesman Herman Taryaman.