Report – By Daniel Drageset
Indonesian authorities today barred the West Papua Freedom Flotilla entry to the port of Merauke in West Papua.
The flagship boat of the flotilla, The Pog, set off from Thursday Island, Queensland, and crossed into the waters of the Indonesian-ruled region of West Papua.
But the Flotilla, which has declared its intentions are only peaceful, would not be allowed in to the West Papuan city of Merauke, the Indonesian army stated.
“They cannot enter sovereign territory of our country as long as they don’t have cleared document,” Brigadier General Rahmayadi told AAP.
He promised the flotilla members would not be taken to land, but instead “expelled while they’re on the sea”.
“No compromise on that. They’ll definitely not be taken to the land first.”
Anticipating a showdown with the military, the flotilla published an Urgent Snap Action on its website on Thursday, calling for people in Adelaide to “come along to support justice for West Papua and show solidarity for the Freedom Flotilla” on Friday as they may “be intercepted by the Indonesian military”.
The Freedom Flotilla was initially made up of three boats with about 20 Australians and West Papuans aboard, and set sail from Cairns last month bound for West Papua.
Because of mechanical problems just six activists aboard one boat, The Pog, were sailing the final leg of the journey.
Already last month, Indonesian authorities stated they “would take measures” if the Flotilla entered West Papuan waters, but also said they would not “threaten them with guns, but we want to send them away”.
More recently, the Indonesian Navy expressed fears the Flotilla would be armed.
Co-founder of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla, Izzy Brown, denied the allegation.
“We come in peace, bearing no arms,” she said according to International Business Times.
“If one unarmed yacht carrying six people justifies a military response from Indonesia, what would they have done if their country was invaded by tens of thousands of paratroopers, marines and army personnel as happened to our land West Papua in Operation Trikora in 1962?”, crew member Jacob Rumbiak questioned.
A total of 2500 Indonesian soldiers have been deployed to Merauke in the last weeks, something the authorities claimed was a “normal rotation”.
“What kind of normal situation is a constant military presence of at least 5000 military personnel in a town of 80,000?” asked Ruben Blake of the Freedom Flotilla, calling the troop build-up “unjustified”.
Military on alert
The flotilla claimed the Indonesian troops were on alert at the moment not only to stop the Freedom Flotilla, but ready to crack down against any peaceful demonstrations or welcoming ceremonies for the Freedom Flotilla.
According to a press release on the flotilla’s website, the troops arrived in Merauke on the same day when in Sorong four community leaders were arrested and charged with treason after organising a congregation to pray for the safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Navy said if the group was unarmed “we’ll try to have some dialogue with them,” an offer which was welcomed by Freedom Flotilla organisers.
Before the Indonesian military’s decision to not allow the flotilla entry to Merauke, Brown told Fairfax reporter Michael Bachelard the flotilla would “try to negotiate free passage or safe passage to Merauke”.
She also said the flotilla had been trying to get in contact with Indonesian authorities, but that they were unsuccessful.
According to Bachelard, Indonesian authorities were “monumentally sensitive about West Papua and the question of separatism and independence”.
He called the flotilla “deliberately provocative” in the eyes of Indonesian authorities, because the crew did not travel with internationally recognised passports, but “Original Nations” passports instead.
The reporter said the flotilla was likely to face military, naval and legal reactions from the Indonesians.
Organisers of the Freedom Flotilla said they aimed to let the world know about human rights abuses in West Papua.
The flotilla participants also wanted to highlight cultural links between Aboriginals and West Papuans.
The crew included Aboriginal elders, West Papuan refugees, filmmakers and other campaigners.
Outgoing Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said last month Australian authorities would not give consular assistance to the campaigners “if they end up in prison as a result of breaching the law of Indonesia”.
One of the Aboriginal elder, Kevin Buzzacott, said in a Pacific Scoop interview the consequences of the Australian policy could be that the campaigners “rot in the jails over there”.
In the past month, the West Papua Freedom Flotilla of around 20 people have made its way overland from Lake Eyre in central Australia to Cairns, and then by sea along the coast to Cape York.
The flotilla consisted of three boats, one of which attempted to go all the way to West Papua.
West Papua Freedom Flotilla fears activists will ‘rot in jail’ if no help sent (audio interview with Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott)
Daniel Drageset is the Pacific Scoop internship editor.