[West Papua, Pacific]
The West Papuan territorial conflict stems from Indonesia’s incorporation of the territory in its post-colonial era. West Papuans refute the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ that proclaimed West Papua as Indeonesian territory. West Papuan grievances with Indonesian rule, including human rights abuses, militarisation and frustrations about self-determination, have attracted increasing international attention and concern. A rising Indonesia is gaining influence throughout the region, countering support for West Papuan independence aims, and Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) members (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s Kanaks) have become divided over West Papua. Recent clashes between West Papuans and security forces and the emergence of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) have further accelerated tensions. Since the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s, an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 West Papuans have been killed.
Where: West Papua/Western New Guinea
Population: 760, 422
Casualties: Over 500,000 indigenous West Papuans killed since the 1960s
Goal: Independence from Indonesia, seeking self-determination for the people of West Papua
The Key Actors
A separatist group operating out of West Papua. The group frequently organises attacks against Indonesian security forces within Papua. The group aims to unite West Papuans, both inside and outside West Papua.
The southern coast of New Guinea (‘Papua’) was granted as a British protectorate in 1884, taking the name of British New Guinea. Other countries, namely Germany and the Netherlands, set claim to New Guinea land by establishing trading posts. The territory of West Papua remains a Dutch colony until 1962.
Indonesia proclaimed Papua an important part of the nation in its declaration of independence on 17 August 1945. It was claimed that Indonesia included all parts of the former Netherlands Indies.
Indonesia’s surrounding islands were colonized by the Dutch, however, as the Republic of Indonesia gained independence as a nation state in 1949, West Papua did not join the country. As the Dutch government acknowledged West Papua’s geographical, ethnic and cultural difference to Indonesia, the Dutch government prepared West Papua for its own independence in the 1950s.
The U.S. urged the Dutch Prime Minister to hand over West Papua to Indonesia, in an attempt to appease a communist friendly Indonesian government. The US government set up a meeting between Indonesia and the Netherlands which resulted in the New York Agreement that gave control of West Papua to the United Nations.
West Papua was transferred to Indonesia where an agreement under UN supervision mandated Indonesia give West Papuans the opportunity to express freedom of choice by ‘ascertaining’ their will. However, the oppressive Suharto regime catalysed clashes between Indonesian security forces and West Papuan rebels.
In 1963, control of West Papua was transferred to Indonesia. The Papuans were never consulted. However, the agreement did promise them their right to self-management and determination.
West Papuan people are horrified by brutal abuse by Indonesian military and the disappearance of many leaders. As a result, the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) movement is formed to coordinate political efforts to regain independence and freedom from Indonesia
In 1984, after Indonesia installed extensive military warfare and captured traditionally owned land. More than 10,000 West Papuans crossed the border to obtain sanctuary in Papua New Guinea.
Since the fall of the Soeharto government in 1998, Indonesia has undertaken many institutional and judicial developments. Post-Soeharto administrations have also officially acknowledged the long history of human rights violations by security forces in Aceh and Papua and authorized special autonomy arrangements for both.
The ‘Papuan Spring’ of 1999 ended abruptly with Indonesian authorities clamping down on pro-independence activities, and a new hardline president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who declared that without West Papua, “Indonesia is not complete”.
Concessions from Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) led to 2000’s landmark Second Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura, in which West Papuan demands for independence were made clear.
KNPB (National Committee for West Papua) chairman Mako Tabuni was killed by Indonesian police, whilst many others face lengthy jail sentences for raising the West Papuan flag.
On the morning of 8 December 2014, military armed forces opened fire on hundreds of Papuan demonstrators assembled nearby the district headquarters of the military and police, in the town of Enarotali, in Papua Province.
The demonstration was a reaction to military personnel allegedly abusing Papuan children in East Paniai Subdistrict the day before. After demonstrators started throwing stones and pieces of wood at the building, security forces opened fire into the crowd, killing four people.
A historic meeting was held at British parliament in Westminster where West Papuan leaders and other leaders from Pacific countries and elsewhere gathered together and affirmed their support for the people of West Papua being able to choose their own future to live in a free and Independent nation.
Peaceful protesters are injured and up to 6 are killed after Indonesian police fire live rounds into a crowd of students protesting for independance for Papua.
Up to 41 people were killed in clashes between with security forces and Jihadi-inspired militia.
Over 6,000 Indonesian troops are deployed to various provinces in West Papua, including its captial, to break down protests and anti-racial discrimination rallies.
Clashes between security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have escalated since January 2020, which human rights groups say have resulted in at least five deaths. At least two other civilians were killed in another incident.
The separatist group West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) attacked workers at the Freeport mine in Papua province, reportedly killing a New Zealander and wounding many others. The mine has been the target of Papuan rebels fighting for self-determination, who view business and development projects as encroaching on Papuan land.
Amid increasing violence, West Papuan leaders have declared a provisional “government-in-waiting” the day before the December 1st anniversary of West Papua’s declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1961.
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Longstanding ethnic tensions in the Indonesian semi-autonomous regions of Papua and West Papua have come to a violent head again, as riots tore through several