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Mahfud MD Supports the “Church Approach” to Free New Zealand Pilot

Mahfud MD Supports the "Church Approach" to Free New Zealand Pilot
Mahfud MD Supports the "Church Approach" to Free New Zealand Pilot. Image Source:

The Indonesian government is considering a different strategy to free the New Zealand pilot who has been held captive by a Papuan armed criminal group for more than a year.

In a conversation with the press on Thursday, 29th February, Mahfud MD, the former Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs of Indonesia and a vice-presidential candidate, remarked that he supported how the government decided to free Philip Mark Mehrtens, a Susi Air pilot and of New Zealand nationality who is currently held captive by a Papuan armed criminal group, by implementing what he dubbed as the “church approach.”

“When it comes to the Papua region, perhaps it is more effective, indeed, if the matter is resolved with the church approach,” MD told the press. “Various efforts have been made by the government [to free Mehrtens]. We support all the measured efforts that will be initiated by our Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Hadi Tjahjanto.”

On a separate occasion, Tjahjanto divulged that he had engaged with some of the local, Christian figures in Nduga, Papua to discuss the best manner to negotiate with the armed criminal group, the latter identified themselves as Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat Organisasi Papua Merdeka (TPNPB-OPM). The Papuans are predominantly either Christian or Catholic; thus, having support from the church communities was expected to be beneficial.

“We are still in the discussion phase,” Tjahjanto told the press on Wednesday, 28th February. “Hopefully, afterwards, they [the church community] could make some efforts on the field as well [to free Mehrtens].”

Furthermore, Abdul Mu’ti, a prominent Muslim figure and the current general secretary of Muhammadiyah Central Leadership, underscored that, regardless of which religious approach the government would opt for, what matters the most is violence could be avoided.

“We [Muhammadiyah] agree with this — any approach that is peaceful, calm, and not militaristic. I believe that’s the kind of approach that works best with the Papuans,” Mu’ti added.

On 7th February 2023, Susi Air pilot and New Zealand native Philip Mark Mehrtens was kidnapped and held hostage by TPNPB-OPM, under the leadership of a Papuan named Egianus Kogoya, when Mehrtens’s plane landed at the Paro Airfield, Nduga Regency, Papua.

On Tuesday, 27th February 2024 — a year after Mehrtens’s ongoing captivity — the current Indonesian vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, and the current prime minister of New Zealand, Christopher Luxon had a sit-down to discuss the matter.

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