News Desk – Susi Air Pilot Hostage-Taking
20 February 2023
Jayapura, Jubi – In addition to Paro District, there were four other districts that were affected following the burning of Susi Air aircraft and the hostage-taking of Susi Air pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens, 37, a New Zealand national, on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. Residents of Yuguru, Geselama, Yenggelo and Mapenduma districts fled their hometown.
Chairman of the Synod of Kemah Injil Church (KINGMI) in Papua Rev. Tilas Moom said the community’s response to flee stemmed from past trauma involving armed conflict between the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB).
“Our people, both from Kingmi in Papua and GKII, are scattered in those villages and districts. When they heard the news about the pilot taken hostage, they knew they had to run to a safe area. They walk through the forests to the capital of Kenyam or to Wamena in Timika. In the past, there was also a hostage-taking and military operations in Mapenduma in 1996, the houses of our people were destroyed, gardens were destroyed, pigs died. Churches were also destroyed. Our pastors and parishioners were also shot and killed. That experience made our people always afraid so they would run to other areas, such as Timika or Wamena,” said Rev. Tilas Moom in Jayapura on Friday, February 17, 2023.
Tilas said that based on a report from the Coordinator of the Kingmi Church in Nduga Regency, Rev. Eliazer Tabuni, his party was having problems monitoring and recording church members from other districts who had left their places a few days after the hostage-taking of the Susi Air pilot.
Tilas explained that people fled to three destinations. First, residents of Paro District went to Kenyam. “For this route, they leave Paro before they can use cars and helicopter pickups. Those people are now already in evacuation posts and family homes in Kenyam,” he explained, adding that the second and third routes were from Paro to Agimuga for those who wanted to go to Timika, and from Paro to Mapenduma for those who went to Wamena.
“There’s no news whether they have arrived. Our coordinator is standing by in Kenyam, waiting for news from the displaced people,” said Tilas.
Transportation, communication and security constraints
The Church admitted to experiencing obstacles in directly monitoring the people of the Kingmi in Papua and the GKII who were displaced.
“Air and land transportation was cut off and our communication network does not work,” said Tilas.
In addition, Tilas said that his coordinator and a number of pastors in the region could not travel to the villages on foot because there was no guarantee of security and safety.
“Our servants of God are actually ready to go to the villages but are worried that there is no guarantee of safety, especially with the armed group controlling the forest. Therefore, we are just waiting for news in the capital,” he said.
Tilas, who is the highest leader of the Kingmi Church, explained that Nduga Regency and its affected districts are the base of the people of Kingmi and GKII. Even though the two are different denominations, Tilas hopes that all parties see this issue as a common concern.
“Helping God’s people does not look at church denominations and religions. All civilians must be protected. We must protect all people and take care of them together,” said Tilas.
Similarly, the Secretary of the Kingmi Synod in Papua, Rev. Dominggus Pigay hopes that attention and monitoring will be carried out by all parties to the Nduga case.
“The recent case of plane-burning and hostage-taking actually did not just happen yesterday. There have been problems including human rights violations that have befallen our people for years. Many problems have never been resolved that have cost the lives of Papuans because of the armed conflict between TNI and TPNPB. We ask the commanders to ensure that our people do not fall victim again,” he said.
Dominggus said the community had always been a victim of security and political issues between Papua and Jakarta. To minimize this problem, he said the Kingmi Church supported a persuasive approach and negotiations to free the New Zealand pilot in order to reduce violence and human rights violations.
“We hope there will be no more shooting, no more helicopters flying and dropping bombs over the villages of our people in Ndugama. When we hear the government and security forces are making persuasive efforts to talk, we think this is good. Hopefully, our people can return to the village to live in peace, go to church without fear and go to the garden freely,” he said.
Previously, commander of Yonif Raider 514/SY Lt. Col. Inf Rinto Wijaya sent two joint TNI-police evacuation teams led by Lt. Inf Anggika on Monday, February 13, 2023, to help move the people evacuating in Kenyam river.
According to the Nduga Administration, there are 167 residents of Paro who have walked more than seven days without adequate logistics. In Kenyam, the displaced people were given initial health an initial health check at Kenyam Hospital and given medical treatment.(*)