A New Zealand pilot taken hostage in West Papua looked emaciated and disheveled as he sent a message to his family a year after his kidnapping.

‘Philip’ mehrtenswho was kidnapped in February 2023 after landing his plane in the remote Nduga region, told his wife and son that he loved them and was “trying to stay positive.”

He is being held by the West Papua Liberation Army, a rebel group that has repeatedly threatened to execute him unless the province is granted independence from Indonesia.

In a video recorded on December 22 but released on Tuesday, the 38-year-old man claims that he is treated well, despite his thin features, long hair and unkempt beard.

Mehrtens laughed lightly as he introduced himself, explaining that the footage was filmed by “the Commander,” believed to be Egianus Kogoya, a rebel army commander who set fire to the pilot’s plane and hijacked him last year.

He said: “I’m fine. They are treating me well. I’m trying to stay positive. I hope you and Jacob are healthy, doing well, and supported.

“Later when we meet again, the commander says we can try making a phone call over WiFi if you’re available.”

He added, haltingly: “I love you both very much, I miss you very much and I hope to talk to you soon.”

Mehrtens is being held by separatist rebels in the Indonesian region of Papua after his abduction in February 2023.

Mehrtens is being held by separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Papua region after his kidnapping in February 2023 – Reuters

West Papua was a Dutch colony from the late 19th century until 1961, but was incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial referendum in 1969. Only 1,000 Papuans are believed to have participated in the vote.

An independence movement has been brewing for decades, but separatist fighters have launched deadlier and more frequent attacks in the past six years.

Images previously released by the group show Mr. Mehrtens, his face smeared with paint, surrounded by captors brandishing automatic weapons.

In a video posted to social media last week, the 38-year-old pleaded with the New Zealand government to send him “one or two” inhalers in case he suffered an asthma attack.

“And if possible, could you get an e-book reader like a Kindle with as many English books as possible?” he continued. “That would be greatly appreciated”.

The Indonesian military swept the mountainous Nduga region in search of Mehrtens after armed rebels stormed his single-engine plane. He had landed at Paro airport to evacuate health workers threatened by the group.

Six soldiers were killed in a shootout with separatists when they were attacked while searching for the New Zealander.

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By Sam