JAYAPURA, Indonesia — Separatist rebels set fire to a small plane carrying six people after it landed at a remote airport in Indonesia’s restive Papua province and took its pilot, a New Zealand citizen, hostage early Tuesday, police and rebels said.

Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom said independence fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, stormed the plane shortly after it landed in Paro in Nduga, a mountainous district.

Sambom said the fighters, led by group commander Egianus Kogeya, set fire to the plane and seized its pilot, Philip Mark Mehrtens, as part of their struggle for independence. He said all five passengers, including a young child, were released because they are indigenous Papuans.

“We have taken the pilot hostage and we are bringing him out,” Sambom said in a statement. “We will never release the pilot we are holding hostage unless Indonesia recognizes and frees Papua from Indonesian colonialism.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Wednesday that New Zealand’s embassy in Jakarta was leading his nation’s response to the case, but he couldn’t say much more.

Sambom said the pilot is being held because New Zealand, along with Australia and the United States, cooperate militarily with Indonesia.

“New Zealand, Australia and America must be held accountable for what they have done, helping the Indonesian military to kill and genocide indigenous Papuans in the past 60 years,” Sambom said.

Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.

Ahead of Tuesday’s attack, police received information from the local administration in Nduga on Saturday that 15 construction workers who were building a health center in Paro village had been captured by rebels and allegedly taken hostage along with the pilot, said Papua police chief Mathius D. Fakhiri.

The plane, operated by Indonesian aviation company Susi Air, was carrying about 450 kilograms of supplies from an airport in Timika, a mining town in neighboring Mimika district. (AP)