West Papua is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, with claims of the entire western half of the island of New Guinea that is currently part of Indonesia and known as Irian Jaya. Much like the rest of Papua New Guinea, West Papua is home to hundreds of individual languages and cultures. Close to one million people would claim to be West Papuan, though an equal number of Indonesians have settled on the island since Indonesian rule was established in the 60s. Of course, this is all part of the plan to permanently steal the large resource-rich land from its indigenous population.

West Papuan subjugation extends back to 1828 with the establishment of a Dutch colony. These early years seem to have been either poorly documented or free of much in the way of trouble. It is alleged that most of the 1,400 villages in the interior were completely unaware of Dutch claims of ownership, or for that matter, their very existence. Perhaps due to benevolent or the almost unnoticed foreign rule, independence was not even discussed until the 1930s.

The territory saw some use in WW2 as a staging ground for MacArthur's assault on the Phillipines. The rest of the Dutch East Indies were occupied by Japan, which aided Achmed Sukarno and others of the Indonesian elite in their notions of independence from Holland. After the war, bitter fighting over the many islands led to a lengthly armed conflict between Holland and the newly declared nation of Indonesia, which was finally recognized at the international level in 1949. Still retaining control of West Papua, the Netherlands began to prepare Dutch New Guinea for its own independence starting in 1952. Indonesia made repeated claims for West Papua but declined to take their case before an International Court when the suggestion was made by the Dutch.

Preperations for an independent West Papua state continued, going as far as choosing a national anthem and flag, raised in a ceremony on November 18th, 1961. Actual independence for West Papua was declared on December 1st, 1961. Indonesia was not to be dissuaded however. Three weeks later they launched Operation Trikora, a series of guerilla attacks against the Dutch forces in Papua.

Negotiations at the international level to diffuse the conflict were opaque to the general public until key documents were unclassified in later decades. As it turns out, the Netherlands received strong diplomatic pressure from the United States to disengage and let the UN handle a transfer of power to Indonesia. America feared that conflict between the Dutch and the Indonesians would lead to heightened communist influence in Southeast Asia. The following is an excerpt of a secret letter1 from J.F.K. to the Dutch Prime Minister on April 2, 1962:
The Netherlands Government has made a statesmanlike effort to meet this problem first through the United Nations and, when that failed, through direct secret negotiations with the Indonesians. I am appreciative of the heavy responsibilities which the Dutch Government supports in protecting its citizens in New Guinea and understand why you felt it necessary to reinforce your defense establishment in that area. However, we face a danger that increasing concentrations of military forces will result in a clash which will be a prelude to active warfare in the area. Such a conflict would have adverse consequences out of all proportion to the issue at stake.

This would be a war in which neither The Netherlands nor the West could win in any real sense. Whatever the outcome of particular military encounters, the entire free world position in Asia would be seriously damaged. Only the communists would benefit from such a conflict. If the Indonesian Army were committed to all out war against The Netherlands, the moderate elements within the Army and the country would be quickly eliminated, leaving a clear field for communist intervention. If Indonesia were to succumb to communism in these circumstances, the whole non-communist position in Viet-Nam, Thailand, and Malaya would be in grave peril, and as you know these are areas in which we in the United States have heavy commitments and burdens.
Indonesia received tacit approval to annex Dutch New Guinea in exchange for non-engagement with the Soviet Union. The Dutch were forced to double back on their recognition of West Papuan independence. West Papua was officially handed over to Indonesian forces on May 1st, 1963, following a short interim period of United Nations administration. Part of the agreement was that Indonesia would, at an unspecified later date, hold a referendum which would be known as "The Act of Free Choice" to determine the West Papuans desires for the future: independence or integration. Predictably the notion of a free referendum was only a ruse to soothe the Dutch conscience at handing away an entire nation to certain hardship.

The late 60s saw ongoing campaigns of aerial bombings, kidnapping of public figures, forced labour, and public humiliation perpetuated on the West Papua people by the new authorities. Thousands died, and these are just the incident to which the outside media was privy. Resettlement plans and "transmigration" saw an influx of ethnic Malays to the predominantly Melanesian territory. This period was marked by near total resistance by the Papuans against their new overlords.

The UN granted the Indonesian Military (TNI) authority to organize the promised referendum in 1969. Dispensing with a public vote, the military selected just over a thousand delegates, with widespread allegations of bribery, intimidation, and brute force used to define the outcome. International observers left after the first two hundred or so spouted off witless pro-Indonesian slogans. According to the Indonesian government, the vote for integration was unanimous. The process received the UN stamp of approval, and the territory was formally annexed by Indonesia. Four years the territory was renamed Irian Jaya and the West Papuan flag, anthem, and any sign of the independence movement was outlawed - indeed, even the term 'West Papua'.

In 1964 the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) or Organization for Papuan Freedom was founded. Through resistance actions they attempted to counter growing Indonesian influence in the new province. After the farce that was "The Act of Free Choice" the OPM attempted to declare the true wishes of the West Papuan people by redeclaring indpendence on July 1st, 1971. Unfortunatly the message was intercepted by Indonesian authorities and the freedom movement suffered a great setback. The group fragmented, and the OPM Revolutionary Council, led by Moses Warrior, was born to continue the struggle.
Our freedom fighters are poorly armed, often having to make do with spears and bows and arrows to fight the Indonesian army, yet despite our poor military equipment, we have been strong enough to stand up against Indonesia's military machine for more than 30 years. No one can deny we are strong.
-- Moses Warrior 1/24/96
American economic imperialism plays a significant role in these events. Indonesian leader Sukarno was ousted from power by General Suharto in 1967 in a coup that was allegedly aided by the CIA. Enter the American mining conglomerate Freeport-McMoRan, who apparently had an agreement with Suharto prior to the takeover. Immediately after signing Indonesia's Foreign Investment Law, Freeport gained the contract to develop a mining complex deep in Irian Jaya on the site of a mountain sacred to the Amungme tribe - two full years before "The Act of Free Choice" even took place. Today Freeport is the largest tax-payer to the Indonesian government, and their Grasberg mine is the world's largest gold and copper mine. Over 120,000 tons of mine tailings are dumped into nearby rivers each day and countless acres of formerly pristine tropical rainforest have been devastated by the extremely profitable venture. In 2003 the company admitted to paying the Indonesian military to keep the native West Papuan landowners from interfering with their profitable operation with the usual arsenal of abuse that has become a feature of West Papuan life. While Freeport claims to be leading economic development in the region, no West Papuan has received any sort of compensation for the mining conglomerates catastrophic intrusion on their lands.

As the decades roll on the outlook has been persistantly dire. Irian Jaya is now home to 1.8 million people - split almost evenly between native West Papuans and resettled (mainly Muslim) Malays, which further dilutes the West Papuan independence movement. While the Indonesian atrocities committed in nearby East Timor garnered widespread international attention after its annexation in 1976, West Papua's conflict has long been overlooked by observers worldwide. Some bleak glimmer of hope came to the people when the corrupt General Suharto finally stepped down in 1998, but this was not to last. Separatist leader Theys Eluay was murdered by members of the army, who were described as "heroes" when convicted by the Indonesian courts. Tension remains high in West Papua, with no coherent vision for escaping the nightmare state of neocolonialism they have fallen prey to in the last four decades.


Sources:
1 Originating at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, Olympia, Washington USA www.cwis.org - http://www.cwis.org

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