Jakarta (ANTARA) - Former Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, who founded and owns Susi Air, dismissed rumors claiming that its New Zealand pilot, Phillip Mark Mehrtens, is part of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist group.

"That is very false, who said Phillip is with OPM or something, it is not," Pudjiastuti clarified during a press conference here on Wednesday.

Mehrtens has been held captive by an armed criminal group (KKB) in Papua since the plane he piloted was burned down on February 7.

Pudjiastuti said she has known Mehrtens for a long time. The minister also believes he is one of the best pilots of Susi Air. He had worked for Susi Air in 2012 but resigned in 2015.

He rejoined Susi Air during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I personally know his wife's family. Phil worked for me for years, almost 10 years. He worked from 2012 to 2015, then resigned, and then came back in 2020," Pudjiastuti explained.

The former minister also said she and Mehrtens were close, as his wife had worked at her fishing company.

"He is married to a Pangandaran (West Java) origin. Back then, his wife also worked in my fishing company long time ago. So, (we) are very close, and he is very kind," she remarked.

Pudjiastuti said that as of now, she had only received information regarding Mehrtens' whereabouts from official news provided by the government through the military (TNI) and National Police (Polri).

She said the difficult terrain and hindered communication lines in the Papua region, where Mehrtens was held hostage, had hindered efforts to save him.

"We wait for efforts made by the local government and soft approaches by TNI-Polri," she remarked.

She expressed optimism that Mehrtens would soon be released from the hostage situation without any conditions, after being held captive for 22 days by the armed criminal group led by Egianus Kogoya.

"We still hope and pray that our pilot, Captain Philip, be released without conditions," she stated.

Related news: Negotiations underway to free Susi Air pilot from Kogoya group
Related news: Persuasion strategy prioritized to rescue abducted Susi Air pilot: TNI
Related news: Impose law on terrorism against armed criminal groups: BNPT

Translator: Melalusa K, Kenzu
Editor: Sri Haryati
Copyright © ANTARA 2023