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Freedom Flotilla claims success after secret meeting with West Papua separatist leaders

Undisclosed location West Papua

Motor boat Approaching


Sacred objects presented


Kevin Buzzacott shakes hands


Ceremony briefly celebrated

Joel Magarey The Australian 13 September 2013

The motorboat meeting on waters just off the PNG coast. Source: Supplied

The "Freedom Flotilla" has claimed success in a key part of its mission after its Australian-West Papuan and Aboriginal co-founders secretly met and handed cultural items to West Papuan separatist leaders near the Indonesian border.

While public attention was focused on the continuing journey of the flotilla's remaining yacht the Pog towards Indonesian territorial waters, a "clandestine" group of flotilla members travelled by air, land and sea to the remote meeting place in far western Papua New Guinea.

Flotilla co-founders Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott and Melbourne-based exiled independence leader Jacob Rumbiak handed over the "ceremonial waters" they had brought from the mound springs of Lake Eyre at the start of the group's journey of nearly two months.

They also handed over ashes gathered from Aboriginal tent embassies from around Australia.

The West Papuan leaders, including two senior "ministers" of the self-declared transitional government of the Federal Republic of West Papua, Frans Kapisa and Elieser Awom, are believed to have travelled illegally into PNG for the meeting.

A video of the meeting, held across two small outboard motorboats not far off the coast, shows Mr Rumbiak translating comments of the ministers thanking the flotilla members for their efforts in support of the West Papuan people.

"People of West Papua very proud and very thank(ful); by your support you stand for help(ing) people of West Papua," Mr Rumbiak is seen translating.

Upon his return from the meeting Mr Buzzacott said the flotilla members, acting to support the West Papuan independence movement, had "made that dream (of the flotilla venture) that we've been building with Jacob Rumbiak since 2000 happen".

Mr Rumbiak said the the "spirit of the movement" was still alive.

"Our people face many challenges for their freedom but they still show us today the determination and imagination to continue the struggle."

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 Papua.

But due to mechanical problems just six activists aboard one boat, the Pog, are sailing the final leg of the journey.

The activists acknowledged they had used the "much-needed distraction" created by the Pog to help keep the travels of the flotilla co-founders and West Papuan leaders to the pre-arranged meeting place undetected.

They said the meeting was held "recently" but said specifying the particular day could "risk (the) lives" of West Papuans who attended or assisted.

A spokesman said the decision to hand over the waters and ashes this way was made following statements made by the Indonesian military against the Pog.

The Pog is still edging closer to Indonesian territorial waters, with the sailors attempting to make contact with officers of the Indonesian navy prior to any confrontation because of concerns for their safety.

Flotilla spokesman Ruben Blake told The Australian the Indonesian military had been making "ambiguous" statements and had not ruled out a violent response to the yacht's arrival or the use of "lethal force".

The Pog has entered Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone and remains on course for the port city of Merauke in Papua.

The vessel, however, is yet to enter Indonesia's "territorial waters", an area that extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

Freedom Flotilla spokeswoman Izzy Brown told AAP today that the Pog was about 70 nautical miles from Papua and still heading for the Indonesian mainland, but that progress was slow due to wind conditions.

It could be another 24 hours before the vessel reached the "territorial waters".

"We crossed the Indonesian water border (the EEZ) at about midnight (1am AEDT) last night and we're heading to Merauke," she said via satellite phone from the yacht.

The group was warned by the Indonesian navy again today to change course and abandon attempts to reach Merauke.

"We, as the guardian of law enforcement and sovereignty of Indonesia, will act based upon Indonesian standard operational procedure," Indonesian navy spokesman First Admiral Untung Suropati told AAP.

Admiral Suropati said he had received a text message from one of the activists aboard the Pog, Amos Wanggai, a West Papuan who fled Indonesia in 2006 and was given refugee status in Australia.

He said he was willing to enter into a dialogue with the group, but insisted they would not be allowed to enter Indonesia.

"As long as they're outside Indonesian water territory, they can do whatever they want. But when they cross, we will act based on Indonesian law and we're not alone in this. There are also police, the army, immigration and others involved," he said.

"Principally, any kind of non-peaceful crossing into Indonesian water territory will not be tolerated."

Additional reporting: AAP

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