A New Zealand aircraft pilot has reportedly been taken hostage in Indonesia and his plane set alight by a rebel group that has threatened to kill him.
The light aircraft captained by New Zealander Philip Marthin landed in a remote part of Indonesia’s West Papua province, on the island of New Guinea, on Tuesday.
The Susi Air flight had taken off from Mozes Kilangin airport in Timika, on New Guinea’s south coast, earlier that day.
It was on its way to Nduga in the newly formed Highland Papua province but landed at a remote airfield instead.
A separatist group issued a statement declaring it would hold Mr Marthin captive until the government in Jakarta recognised the independence of West Papua.
The island of New Guinea is divided between Papua New Guinea, in the east, and Indonesia, in the west. Ethnic Papuans are linguistically and culturally distinct from many other Indonesians.
The West Papuan National Liberation Army (TPNPB) has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and has said it will kill Mr Marthin unless its demands are met.
“We want to convey that we have taken this pilot hostage and brought it to the TPNPB headquarters which is far from the airfield area,” said TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom in a statement to The Australian.
“The US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand has supported the Indonesian government, trained the Indonesian National Police, supplied weapons to kill us West Papuans from 1963 to today. They must be held accountable,” he continued.
It is believed the five passengers on the plane were released as they were all ethnic Papuans.
Images from the airstrip where the Susi Air plane landed showed smoke rising from the wreckage. It’s not clear how the plane caught fire.
Papua police spokesman Ignatius Benny Adi Prabowo said the Indonesian military and police were investigating the alleged kidnapping.
“We cannot send many personnel there because Nduga is a difficult area to reach. We can go there only by plane.”
Violence from pre-independence groups in West Papua has increased since 2018.
In 2018, 20 people died in Nduga, including 19 construction workers building a road, when they were attacked by rebels.
New Zealand’s embassy in Jakarta has yet to comment on the incident or confirm Mr Marthin’s identity.