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Indonesia warns it may use force against West Papuan Freedom Flotilla

August 20, 2013

1) Indonesia warns it may use force against West Papuan Freedom Flotilla

Government says ‘use of weaponry may not be necessary’ but armed forces ‘will take measures’ if activists enter its waters

Judalu Neal from Yarrabah Aboriginal community near Cairns, who will be on the flotilla. Photograph: Margret Gilchrist

The Indonesian government has said it hopes it will not be necessary to use lethal force against a boatload of activists planning to land illegally in Merauke, West Papua, in the coming weeks.

The West Papuan Freedom Flotilla is sailing from Australia to raise awareness about the abuses faced by Indigenous West Papuans under Indonesian rule. They have been denied permission to enter Indonesian territory.

Indonesia‘s deputy co-ordinating political, legal and security affairs, Agus Barnas, told the Guardian on the 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."

He said the government had ordered the navy commander and the air force commander to patrol the area near where the boats are planning to land.

"We’re paying special attention, and intensifying [our patrols]. If they enter Indonesian water, the armed forces will take measures," he said. "The order is to direct them away from Indonesian territory."

Barnas said the government had made it clear to the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, during independence day celebrations last week, that Indonesia viewed the flotilla as a direct attack on its sovereignty, telling him: "No country should allow … use [of] its territory as a base to launch a disturbance to another country."

But a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs told the Guardian that "the flotilla will not be prevented from leaving Australia. It is not illegal to depart an Australian port."

The spokesman confirmed that Moriarty had discussed the Freedom Flotilla with the Indonesian government, including members of the foreign ministry, but he declined to say whether Australia had sought an assurance that deadly force would not be used against the activists.

"The Indonesian government has made it very clear that the flotilla would be breaking Indonesian law should it attempt to enter Indonesian waters – under no circumstances will the Australian government condone the breaking of another country’s laws," the spokesman said.

Izzy Brown, one of the flotilla participants, said she was not surprised by Indonesia’s reaction.

"We knew something like that was potentially on the cards so we’ve been preparing for it," she said.

"We do have contingency plans – we have planned different courses of action depending on what arises."

But Brown said the plan was to attempt to land in West Papua regardless.

"West Papuans live in fear every day, in fear of the Indonesian military," she told the Guardian. "We are embarking on a peaceful journey to bring awareness and compassion about an issue that has for too long been ignored in the Australian and international media."

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