Locator map of Indonesian province of Papua. Image/

The West Papua Liberation Army has released a video of the New Zealand pilot who was taken hostage by them last year in February.

Phillip Mehrtens, an Air Susi pilot, was taken hostage by the group in an attempt to achieve independence from Indonesia. The separatists had earlier demanded that Indonesia recognise Papuan independence in return for his release.

He was captured after landing his small plane at the Paro airport in the Nduga regency in Papua. The region is home to a decades-long separatist movement. "I'm OK, they are treating me well. I'm trying to stay positive and I hope that you and Jacob are healthy and doing OK and getting support," the pilot says in the video.

"I love you both lots and miss you both lots and hope to be able to talk with you soon," he added.

He goes on to talk about how he will speak to the "komandant" if he can make a call to his family. The video was reportedly taken on December 22, 2023. However, it has been released just this week.

On February 7 this year, the rebels said that they would release Mehrtens. The chief of general staff of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB), Terianus Satto, said that the pilot will be released "to protect humanity and safeguard human rights". However, they are yet to fulfil the promise.

At the time of his capture, Mehrtens was working to provide air links and supplies to remote communities.

Last week, the New Zealand government had also called for his release. "We strongly urge those holding Phillip to release him immediately and without harm. His continued detention serves the interests of no one," New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement.

"We know that just before Christmas, Phillip was able to contact some friends and family to assure them that he is alive and well, however we are still concerned at the length of time he has been held," he added.

The minister further stated that the New Zealand government agencies have been working with Indonesia over the last year to secure Mehrtens' release. "There can never be any justification for hostage taking," he added.

Papua, a former Dutch colony, declared itself independent in 1961. Neighbouring Indonesia took control of the region in 1963 with the promise of holding an independence referendum.

The referendum resulted in Papua voting in favour of remaining a part of Indonesia. However, the vote overseen by the United Nations in 1969 was widely criticised and was even called a sham.

Papua is the world's third-largest island country and a resource-rich region. It has been marred by decades of conflict.