Papua Rebels Might Release Kidnapped New Zealand Pilot

    Papua Rebels Might Release Kidnapped New Zealand Pilot
    Photo: Ulet Ifansasti / Stringer/Getty Images News via Getty Images (Aug. 15, 2013)

    The Facts

    • The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) Wednesday ordered its armed faction to release a New Zealand pilot it took hostage a year ago in a remote and mountainous area of Nduga in Indonesia's Papua province.

    • The kidnapped pilot, Phillip Mehrtens, was flying a small aircraft for Susi Air, providing "vital air links and supplies to remote communities," when he was abducted by armed rebels on Feb. 7, 2023, reportedly as a bargaining chip to advocate for Papua's independence.


    The Spin

    Narrative A

    Papua's demand for recognition of independence in exchange for a hostage is a desperate attempt to attract international attention toward the West Papuan crisis. Instead of using the pilot as a pawn for high-level political negotiations, the rebels should call for the UN to mediate the conflict.

    Narrative B

    This incident has renewed attention to one of the world's least-known and longest-running conflicts, which is why the TPNPB shouldn't lose its bargaining position. It should only free Mehrtens if Indonesia allows Papua to become a sovereign country after more than six decades.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 5% chance that Indonesia will experience a civil war before 2036, according to the Metaculus prediction community.


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