One dead after failed rescue mission for NZ pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens in West Papua

One person is dead and five others are believed to be after separatist gunmen attacked Indonesian Army troops who were attempting to rescue a captured New Zealand pilot. 

Initial reports suggest a group of about 36 soldiers were at a post in Nduga searching for Phillip Mark Mehrtens when a group from the West Papua Liberation Army opened fire on Saturday, according to AP. 

A military spokesperson confirmed to AP one person is dead but reports from the ground claim six are dead and more than 20 others fled into the jungle. It's understood nine soldiers are reportedly being held by the rebels.

Papua military spokesperson Colonel Herman Taryaman said around 30 soldiers are missing after the attack. 

"It's still unknown exactly how many Indonesian army troops died and were injured," Taryaman told AP.

"We are still searching, but heavy rain, foggy weather and a lack of communication have hampered our search and evacuation efforts.

A spokesperson for the Indonesian National Armed Force First Admiral Julius Widjojono said the attack happened when soldiers were combing an area close to where Mehrtens is being held. 

Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom said the attack was revenge for the killing of two of their members. 

Sambom called on the Indonesian Government to stop its military operations in Papua. He said the group has offered to negotiate with the Indonesian and New Zealand governments. 

"Indonesia's government must stop its security operation in Papua and be willing to negotiate with our leaders under the mediation of a neutral third party from a United Nations agency," Sambom said in a statement as reported by AP. 

But Widjojono said the military operations are about minimising casualties and "maintaining our territorial sovereignty". 

Mehrtens was kidnapped in February when he landed at Paro Airport in the Papuan region of Indonesia.