Pacific Media Watch

13 September 2013

WEST PAPUA: Freedom Flotilla evades military – gets to land to hold ceremony

Video of Kevin Buzzacott and other members of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla at the cultural ceremony in West Papua on Thursday. Footage: West Papua Freedom Flotilla

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch / West Papua Freedom Flotilla / AAP / ABC News Online): Evading the military, two tiny boats with members of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla made it to shore on Thursday and completed its mission to present water and ashes to West Papuan leaders.

At an undisclosed location, near the Australia-Indonesia border, members of the flotilla held a ceremony between indigenous people of Australia and West Papua.

The ceremony was “the pinnacle of a 5000km journey beginning in Lake Eyre [in central Australia], in which sacred water and ashes were carried and presented to West Papuan leaders”, the flotilla stated on its website.

The cultural exchange between indigenous elders was held in secret, because of statements made by the Indonesian military who said they would “take measures” against the flotilla. 

During the ceremony Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott presented sacred water from the springs of Lake Eyre, along with ashes from the Aboriginal tent embassies around Australia, to senior West Papuan leaders.

According to the flotilla website, the exchange was intended to reunite the cultures of the two indigenous peoples, whose lands where once joined before being separated at the end of the last ice age, and as a symbol of support for the West Papuans’ 50-year-long fight for independence. Members of the Flotilla on their way to the cultural ceremony in West Papua. Image:

Late Thursday evening participants of the flotilla had made a “risky return across the heavily patrolled border”, and were “laying low” inside West Papua, the flotilla website stated.  

Historic moment
Flotilla spokesperson Izzy Brown attended the ceremony and said it was both historical and emotional.

"For 'Uncle' Kevin it was an incredibly emotional time, and it was an emotional time for the West Papuans as well," she told ABC News Online from on board the flotilla's flagship, The Pog

It was a long time in the planning and a long time in the coming - definitely a little bit of history in the making.

The fact that it made it all the way to the West Papuan leaders is a really amazing completion of a really epic mission that probably started many millions of years ago.

We had numerous contingency plans, we didn't know what would work, and I think fate and faith pulled that one off.

“We made that dream that we’ve been building with Jacob Rumbiak since 2000, we made it happen,” Buzzacott said. 

“The spirit of the movement is still alive. Our people face many challenges for their freedom but they still show us today the determination and imagination to continue the struggle,” Jacob Rumbiak said, an exiled West Papuan political leader living in Australia. 

The Pog 
Meanwhile, the Freedom Flotilla’s flagship, The Pog, was en route to the port city of Merauke Friday afternoon, despite warnings from the Indonesian Navy it would not be allowed entry because the flotilla members only had “Original Nations” passports with them. 

As of Friday afternoon, The Pog had entered the Indonesian exclusive economic zone and remained on course for Merauke in West Papua, AAP reported.

The vessel had not, however, entered Indonesian territorial waters, an area which extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

Brown said progress was slow because of difficult wind conditions, and it could be another 24 hours before the vessel reached the territorial waters of the Indonesian-ruled region of West Papua.

The flotilla would thus reach Indonesian territorial waters sometime on Saturday morning if Brown’s predictions were correct.

The group was warned by the Indonesian Navy on Friday to change course and abandon attempts to reach Merauke, but the flotilla “is continuing attempts to open dialogue with the Navy Command”, a Friday afternoon press release from the flotilla said.

Indonesian response
An Indonesian military official told AAP that “any kind of non-peaceful crossing into Indonesian water territory will not be tolerated”.

The flotilla has stated in numerous press releases and interviews that its intentions are peaceful, and that it did not carry any weapons.

"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 said.

"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.

The West Papua 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 West Papua.

But because of mechanical problems, just six activists aboard one boat, The Pog, were sailing the final leg of the journey.

Watch footage of the cultural ceremony

West Papua Freedom Flotilla refused entry by Indonesian military

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Daniel Drageset

PMW contributing editor 2013

Daniel Drageset is a Norwegian radio journalist who graduated with a Master in Communication Studies degree at AUT University.