Rebels who take former Jetstar pilot hostage kill at least six soldiers trying to rescue him
- Armed rebels attack Indonesian troops, killing at least six
- Another 30 troops are missing in the dense forest in Papau
- Troops were looking for the hostage pilot Phillip Mehrtens
At least six people have been killed and another 30 are missing after separatist gunmen attacked Indonesian army troops searching for a missing pilot.
New Zealand pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens was taken hostage in Papua and army troops were deployed to rescue him.
Mehrtens, 37, was working for an Indonesian aviation company when he was kidnapped in February.
Separatist rebels kidnapped him after storming a single-engine Indonesian Susi Airlines jet shortly after it landed on a small airstrip.
At least six people are dead and another 30 are missing after armed rebels attacked Indonesian troops in search of missing New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens (Photo: Philip Mehrtens, center, with West Papau Liberation Army)
Military leaders narrowed down his location, but was attacked by the West Papua Liberation Army on Saturday.
According to military reports, at least six people died and 21 others fled into the jungle.
It is clear that one soldier fell into a deep ravine and died, while others were attacked to save him.
A military spokesman said only one person was killed and another nine soldiers would be detained by the rebels.
Papua military spokesman Colonel Herman Taryaman said 30 soldiers are still missing.
“It is still not known exactly how many Indonesian army troops were killed and injured,” Taryaman said.
“We are still searching, but heavy rain, foggy weather and a lack of communication have hampered our search and evacuation efforts.”
First Admiral Julius Widjojono, spokesman for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI), said rebels confronted troops as they tried to comb the region for the pilot.
Rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom released a statement saying the killings were revenge for the deaths of two rebels during a shootout with Indonesian security forces in March.
Mr Mehrtens (centre), 37, was working for Indonesian aviation company Susi Air when he was kidnapped by rebels in February when separatist rebels stormed a Susi Airlines plane after it landed on a small airstrip
Mr Sambom said at least nine soldiers of Indonesia’s elite army have been killed and urged the Indonesian government to halt military operations in the region.
“The Indonesian government must end its security operation in Papua and be prepared to negotiate with our leaders through a neutral third party from a UN agency,” Sambom said.
Mr. Mehrtens met his wife Maria in Indonesia, and the couple moved to New Zealand and lived in Auckland while Mr. Mehrtens worked for Jetstar.
The couple then returned to Indonesia when he rejoined Susi Air, founded in 2004, which operates a fleet of 50 aircraft.
Papua was annexed to Indonesia in 1969 following a UN-sponsored referendum widely regarded as a sham.
Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.