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West Papua: First Nations 'sovereign authority' re-asserted

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Michael Bachelard The Age 20 August 2013

Foreign minister Bob Carr has made it clear that Australia would entirely abandon the activists on the Freedom Flotilla protest boats if they are caught and tried by either Papua New Guinea or Indonesia for illegally entering their territory.

The flotilla, which has on board Australian Aboriginal and West Papuan protesters and intends to enter the controversial Indonesian territory early next month, is travelling using indigenous Australian passports as well as visas from the self-declared independent state of West Papua. Neither is an internationally recognised document.

However, in a statement issued on Tuesday, indigenous activist Robbie Thorpe, on behalf of the Freedom Flotilla, reasserted the group's "sovereign authority to issue Original Nations Passports".

The so-called Freedom Flotilla, which is planning to sale from Queensland to West Papua.

Mr Carr has sent a formal letter to the flotilla's organisers warning them that they face heavy penalties, including imprisonment, for breaching the immigration laws of two countries, and adding that they will get no consular assistance if they are in trouble.

"In a case like this where people have got every choice in the world and they are given an explicit warning by their government, we don't believe we're under any obligation, if they get into trouble, to have our diplomats spending whole days of their time seeing them in prison or making representations to the government of Indonesia or Papua New Guinea," Mr Carr said.

"I'm somewhat tired of seeing Australian taxpayers' money invested on a huge scale in support of people who are given warnings and then engage in high risk behaviour."

Flotilla organisers plan to land in West Papua in early September.

Asked about threats this week by the Indonesian military to move against the protest, Mr Carr said: "Indonesia will take what action it's entitled to take under its laws. It's Indonesian waters and Indonesian laws apply and we would not intervene."

A senior Indonesian minister has said he will deploy the country's navy and airforce against the flotilla of small vessels if they try to breach Indonesia's sovereignty.

Mr Thorpe said Aboriginal passports "represent a Global Safe Travel document".

"Whose borders are these anyway? Why should we require the white man's documents to travel to West Papua? Our lands were once connected, our cultures entwined for thousands of years, we don't need authority from Australia or Indonesia to do as we have always done," he said.

Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa toned down his rhetoric on the subject, reassuring his country in the Indonesian language that Australia officially recognised West Papua as part of Indonesia.

The restive province has been the subject of a long-running, low-intensity insurgency by groups wanting to separate from Indonesia. More than 100,000 are likely to have died in the 50 years of trouble.