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Indonesia threatens to turn back Freedom Flotilla boat

Yahoo News 13 September 2013

The Indonesian navy threatened to turn back a boat of six Australian activists seeking to sail into the restive region of Papua to draw attention to rights abuses.

It came as the unarmed yacht, the Pog, hovered in Papua New Guinea waters not far from the maritime border with Indonesia.

The activists were waiting to hear directly from the navy and receive assurances force would not be used against them before entering Indonesian waters, their spokesman said.

Any confrontation could strain relations between Indonesia and Australia, as the Southeast Asian nation is highly sensitive about its sovereignty over Papua.

"If the boat enters our waters, we will turn it around. That's what we would do with any boat that didn't have the correct permits to enter the country," Indonesian navy spokesman Untung Suropati told AFP.

Suropati also stressed the navy would only use force if threatened by an armed vessel.

"If they are not armed, the navy will just intercept the boat, and prevent the activists from setting foot on Indonesian land," he said.

The Australian government has also warned the activists they will not be offered any special treatment if they are arrested in Indonesia.

The journey began on August 17 from the northern Australian city of Cairns with three boats and 20 activists making up the "Freedom Flotilla", but the fleet was reduced to one boat after the other two suffered mechanical problems.

The activists hope to dock in the Papuan port town of Merauke and hold a ceremony with Papuans to raise awareness of what they say are widespread rights abuses at the hands of Indonesian authorities.

"We feel very strongly that the voice of the Papuans is not heard by the world," Freedom Flotilla spokesman Ruben Blake told AFP.

Jakarta keeps a tight grip on the troubled region, the western part of New Guinea island, where a low-level separatist insurgency has been simmering for decades, and there are high rates of poverty and low standards of health and education.

Papua declared independence from the Dutch in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the region with force in 1963. It officially annexed Papua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham.

Flotilla hoping to dock in Indonesian port of Merauke

Monique Ross ABC News 13 September 2013

The flotilla group comprises about 30 Australian and West Papuan activists, film-makers and Aboriginal elders.

Its next move remains unclear.

The group is hoping to dock in the Indonesian port of Merauke ahead of a planned welcoming ceremony on Saturday, but Ms Brown says Indonesian authorities have not yet been willing to communicate.

"We've been attempting to contact the Indonesian military," she said.

"We just tried three times to call on sat phone to the captain in Merauke and also the navy spokesman.

"But they're not answering their phones and they've hung up three times.

"We're attempting to communicate with them by radio also, but they're not communicating with us whatsoever.

"We're really hoping they will talk to us before they act.

"The way they're behaving towards us is just an example of what people in West Papua are facing every day."

Indonesian police have previously said the group risks being detained and possibly arrested, and warned demonstrators could face up to five years in prison for violating immigration laws.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also warned the group that should they be arrested, consular officials cannot intervene in the court process.

Four West Papuan community leaders who attended a church meeting to pray for the activists are expected to be charged with treason.

Papuans have been fighting for independence from Indonesia for the past 50 years.

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