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Indonesian troops surround Papuan hostage-takers

JAKARTA: Security forces in Indonesia’s troubled Papua region have surrounded separatists holding a New Zealand pilot captive but will exercise restraint while negotiations for his release continue, a senior security official said Tuesday.

Philip Mehrtens, a Susi Air pilot, was taken hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TNPB) on February 7 after landing in the remote Nduga region.

The rebels say they will not release Mehrtens, 37, unless the Indonesian government recognizes the region’s independence and withdraws its troops.

Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said security forces had located the location of the group holding the pilot but would refrain from actions that could endanger his life.

“Now they are under siege and we already know their whereabouts. But we have to be careful,” Mahfud said, according to local media.

He did not elaborate on the location or what steps Indonesia might take to free the pilot.

Separatists have waged a low-level struggle for independence since the resource-rich region, once ruled by the Netherlands, was brought under Indonesian control after a United Nations-supervised vote in 1969.

Hostage-taking by foreigners is rare and the conflict has escalated since 2018, with rebels carrying out increasingly deadly and frequent attacks.

Admiral Yudo Margono, Indonesia’s military chief, said operations were complicated by the presence of civilians in the area.

“It’s not easy to catch this group as they mix with the locals. We will prioritize persuasion actions,” he said in a statement.

Security forces have previously said a “law enforcement operation” is planned, but only as a last resort if negotiations fail.

The government has so far enlisted the help of prominent figures in Papua such as politicians, priests and local leaders to communicate with the kidnappers.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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