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Separatist rebels set fire to a small plane with six people on board as it landed at an airport in a remote area of ​​Indonesia's restive Papua province and took its pilot, a New Zealand citizen, hostage, police and rebels said, BTA reported, citing AP. 

A rebel spokesman said fighters from the pro-independence group the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, stormed the plane after it landed in Paro in the mountainous Nduga district.

According to the spokesman, the militants, personally led by the group's local commander, set fire to the plane and captured the pilot, Phillips Max Martin, in order to use him to realize their political demands.

The other five passengers, including a small child, were released because they were ethnic Papuans.

"We have taken the pilot hostage and we will show him publicly," the separatist spokesman said.

"We will never release the pilot until Jakarta recognizes and frees Papua from Indonesian colonialism."

The spokesman said the airman was alive, but did not say where he was being held.

According to him, the pilot was taken hostage because New Zealand, along with Australia and the United States, cooperates militarily with Indonesia.

"New Zealand, Australia and America must be held accountable for what they are doing - for helping the Indonesian army for 60 years to massacre and genocide Papuans," the spokesman said. 

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Conflicts often erupt between the Papuans, who are the indigenous population of economically backward Papua, and Indonesian security forces.

Papua is a former Dutch colony located in the western part of New Guinea, and is ethno-culturally distinct from the rest of Indonesia.

In 1969, it was joined by Indonesia after a referendum produced under the auspices of the United Nations and described by many as a farce.

Since then, this area, which is rich in natural resources and is administratively divided into two provinces - Papua and West Papua - has been a hotbed of small-scale insurgency against the central government in Jakarta.

A Papua police spokesman said soldiers and law enforcement officials were searching for the pilot and passengers.

The plane, which was operated by the Indonesian airline Susi Air and was carrying about half a ton of food, took off from the airport in Timika, a mining town in neighboring Mimika County.

In the past year, the conflict in Papua has intensified and claimed the lives of dozens of insurgents, security forces and civilians.