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Flotilla Leaves Australia for West Papua Protest Voyage

August 19, 2013

Flotilla Leaves Australia for West Papua Protest Voyage

By Benjamin Soloway on 11:34 pm August 19, 2013.
Category Asia-Pacific, Featured, International, News
Tags: Australia, Papua, West Papua

Protestors set out for West Papua from Queensland, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Freedom Flotilla West Papua)

A flotilla carrying approximately 50 West Papuan and indigenous Australian protestors bound for the Indonesian territories of West Papua began its journey from Queensland, Australia this weekend. Two boats are currently at sea and a third will leave Australia on August 20.

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,” according to their website, will make landfall in early September, if their voyage goes according to plan.

“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.”

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto, has threatened to deploy the navy and air force. He has also criticized Australia for allowing the flotilla to depart in the first place.

“There should be no nation allowing its soil to be used as a departure point for the movement of a group aimed at disturbing other nations’ sovereignty,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.

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.”

After Indonesian independence, 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 Dutch presence in Papua.

In 1969, the Papua provinces agreed to join Indonesia in a referendum of elders, the legitimacy of which has been questioned ever since by a contingent of separatists, some peaceful and some violent.

Human-rights abuses have been frequently documented. The government bars journalists from covering issues related to independence.

Australia was quick to reaffirm its support of Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua.

“[The flotilla's] action is not supported by Australia, it’s extremely ill advised,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told Radio National, an Australian station, on August 19. “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.”

Australia will offer the protestors nothing more than normal consular assistance if they end up on the wrong side of Indonesian law, he added.

“Bob Carr’s radio interview this morning represents the most recent comment from the Australian government — the embassy doesn’t plan to say any more on this issue today,” Ray Marcelo, a spokesman for the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, told the Globe.

Izzy Brown, a spokeswoman for the flotilla, refuted Carr’s view that West Papua is not part of the mainstream conversation.

“If he’s talking about it, that means it is on the agenda,” she told the Globe. “I hope that this action can really put West Papua on the world stage. I hope that both the Australian and the Indonesian governments pay attention, and that indigenous rights and indigenous privileges are respected.”

In recent years, protest flotillas have attracted widespread media attention, especially in 2010, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine protestors who were part of an effort to violate Israel’s embargo on the Gaza Strip.

Brown says the protestors hope for the best, but are prepared for the worst.

“The Indonesian navy is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “If the Australian and Indonesian governments want to avoid a diplomatic incident, they should come to the table to talk about about the situation in West Papua. I hope this will be catalyst to wake up the world.”

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