Detained in Indonesia but not deterred

Last updated 05:00 17/08/2012
Christine Burke

AN ORDEAL: Christine Burke, right, with children of the Dani tribe in West Papua, Indonesia, before her expedition group was taken hostage.

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Former Timaru woman Christine Burke stayed calm and watched her captors closely while being held hostage in Indonesia for four hours on Sunday.

The Sydney-based mountaineer was part of a group of 10, including three New Zealanders, on a climbing expedition to Carstensz Pyramid, who were detained in a West Papua village by an unknown group of Dani militia.

The militia demanded 1 billion rupiah (NZ$130,063). Passports were confiscated and a blockade was put in place so they could not leave. Eventually a settlement of US$3500 (NZ$4344) was negotiated on the condition the militia left and the captives were freed on Monday. During the ordeal, Ms Burke said, she tried to concentrate on what was happening, "being observant of people's demeanour, staying calm, listening to team input".

"We got a lot from the translation we received from our Indonesian agents but a lot could also be gleaned from the militia leader's tone of voice and body language."

She did not feel safe until they arrived at Ilaga Airport and were within the fenced area guarded by the Indonesian military.

"I didn't have a high level of confidence that we really would be given safe passage to the airport.

"I'm glad to say I was wrong."

The militia retreated and the group was escorted the rest of the way - about 50-100 metres - by Dani tribesman. Ms Burke said she was tired and hungry, having been awake all night lying on the floor of a hut.

Now back in Sydney, she is looking forward to being with family and friends. But undeterred by the experience, she will leave for Nepal later this month to begin a climbing expedition to Manaslu.

She has not ruled out returning to Carstensz. "I want to let the dust settle and I will monitor activity in the region. "It was a really big decision to go to West Papua." She plans to give a detailed account of the incident to the Australian and New Zealand embassies.

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- The Timaru Herald

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