On behalf of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), I would like to express my deepest concern for the life of captured New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens. Currently, the priority of all parties involved in this tragic ordeal is to help and assist the pilot to return home safely and rejoin his family and friends.

Phillip Mehrtens is an innocent human being who has been unwittingly made into a pawn in a decades-old conflict between the colonial power of Indonesia and the indigenous resistance of West Papua. Therefore, securing Phillip Mehrtens’ safe return must be the top priority for all parties involved, as his life has been thrown into chaos through no fault of his own.

I am aware of the threat made by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) last week to shoot the pilot. It is indeed tragic that the life of the pilot is at risk, and I understand where the Liberation army is coming from; however, I cannot comprehend why the blood of an innocent family man should be shed on our ancestral land. For more than sixty years, the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Papuans has been shed on this sacred land as a result of Indonesian military operations. We do not need to shed the blood of another innocent.

As Papuans, we do not take innocent lives; nor do we have a tradition of genocide, killings, massacres, or land theft. This is not a teaching handed down from our ancestors. We have dignity and tradition and as our ancestors always taught us, the killing of an innocent person is strictly prohibited. We believe in this, and every Papuan knows it.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua seeks a peaceful resolution to reclaim our stolen sovereignty. This does not imply that we are weak or ineffective, nor does it indicate that the international community has turned a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Indonesian security forces. The world is currently watching Indonesia closely due to their inhumane treatment, barbaric behaviours, genocidal policies, ecocide, and acts of terror against our people.

In light of this, I would like to strongly encourage my brothers and sisters in the TPNPB camp to reconsider the threat made against the pilot and what this would mean to his grieving family, as well as to our national liberation cause. All West Papuans know that international law is on our side: Indonesia’s military occupation and initial claim on West Papua being clearly wrong under international law. But so too is taking the life of an innocent person who is not involved in the conflict.

Keep in mind that this is a big fight against one of the world’s most powerful countries. However, never forget that the truth is on our side and Jakarta knows it. One day we will win. Light will always overcome darkness.

I would also like to urge the government of Indonesia not to make any reckless statements or actions regarding this hostage crisis. The Indonesian government has a duty to assist in Mr Mehrtens’ safe release. I also urge the government of New Zealand, the UN and the international community to exert pressure on Jakarta to ensure his safe release as soon as possible, and to listen to the voices, cries and demands of the Papuan people who wish to be free in their own land.

We on the ULMWP Executive have been working tirelessly to secure Mr Mehrtens’ release through private channels. I am personally willing to take part in negotiations for his release and want to work with our Pacific brothers and sisters in New Zealand to achieve this. However, Mr Mehrtens’ condition is being made significantly more precarious by the Indonesian government’s refusal of outside aid and determination to use military means. Indonesia’s aggressive stance goes hand-in-hand with their increased militarisation of West Papua: the ‘combat alert’ the military announced last month means that rural West Papuans are now living under brutal martial law.

The Indonesian criminal and occupier uses these incidents to distort West Papuans’ peaceful mobilisation in defence of their land. Mr Mehrtens is effectively being used as a pawn, with his captivity used as justification for more checkpoints, more troops, more militarisation in West Papua.

I again offer my deepest sympathies to Mr Mehrtens’ family and call for his unconditional release. Our struggle continues. We remain committed to fulfilling the West Papuan dream of independence through peaceful means.

Benny Wenda