Indonesia threatens West Papua ‘Freedom Flotilla’

A three-vessel Freedom Flotilla carrying some 50 West Papuan and indigenous Australian protesters bound for the restive Indonesian territory of West Papua began its voyage from Queensland, Australia, this past week—to the dismay of both Austrailian and Indonesian authorities. The protestors, who hope “to reconnect two ancient cultures and to reveal the barriers that keep human rights abuses in West Papua from the attention of the international community,” expect to make landfall in early September. “The initiative of Indigenous Elders of Australia and West Papua will build global solidarity and highlight the abuses of human rights and land rights carried out under the occupations of their lands on an international stage,” the statement on the Flotilla’s website reads.

Official reaction to the Flotilla has ranged from dismissive to threatening. “This is just a publicity stunt by some elements trying to get attention,” Michael Tene, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, told the Jakarta Globe. “It will not affect Indonesia or any other country, and it will not affect our work in the Papua provinces.” More ominously, Indonesia’s deputy minister for security affairs, Agus Barnas, told The Guardian by phone from Jakarta that “the use of weaponry may not be necessary. We won’t threaten them with guns, but we want to send them away from Indonesian territory.”

Jakarta has also warned Canberra over the Flotilla. Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said that any help Australia provided to the flotilla “won’t be good for our bilateral relationships.” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr  quickly disavowed the protester. The Flotilla’s “action is not supported by Australia, it’s extremely ill advised, he told Radio National. “I think this activity by a fringe group of Australians offers a cruel hope to the people of the two Indonesian Papuan provinces; that is, a hope that, somehow, independence for the Papuan provinces is on the international agenda, when it’s not. The world recognizes Indonesian sovereignty as we do.”

After Indonesian independence in 1949, West Papua remained a Dutch overseas territory until 1962, when Indonesia and the Netherlands signed the New York Agreement at the UN headquarters, formally ending the last Dutch colonial presence in the archipelago. In 1969, the Papua provinces agreed to join Indonesia in a referendum of elders—the legitimacy of which has been questioned ever since by an independence movement. Human rights abuses have been growing in recent years, and the Jakarta government effectively bars journalists from covering the independence struggle. (The Guardian, Aug. 20; Jakarta Globe, Aug. 19)

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  1. Papua Freedom Flotilla leaders in hiding
    A group of West Papuans involved with the Freedom Flotilla say they are in hiding after receiving threats from the Indonesian military and police. The flotilla planned to sail from Australia to the Indonesian port of Merauke, but changed plans after the Indonesian navy said it would not rule out using lethal force. Instead, a group of West Papuans crossed the Indonesian sea border in a small boat to meet with the Australian and West Papuan activists last week. Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan, who was a key local contact for the flotilla in Merauke, was on board. He is now in hiding with five others and fears for his life. “I need to inform you about the situation in Merauke—it is not safe,” Mandabayan told Guardian Australia from an undisclosed location Sept. 18.