West Papua – A Short History

West Papua History

 

In 1949, Sukarno led Indonesia to independence from the Dutch, but West Papua remained under Dutch rule. After a while the Indonesians began threatening to take over West Papua from the Dutch. The Australians wanted the two halves of the Island of Papua reunited. (A very sensible idea, that would have avoided much future suffering) but John F. Kennedy would have none of it, so in 1963, The U.S. brokered an agreement with President Sukarno, where by the U.N. would run the province till it was handed over to Indonesia on the condition Indonesia organized a ‘Vote of Free Choice’ (some call a vote of no choice) within 7 years. None of the local Melanesian people were consulted, so they started their own independence movement, the O.P.M. – Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Papuan Freedom Organization) with the words

“We do not want modern life! We refuse any kinds of development: religious groups, aid agencies, and governmental organizations just Leave Us Alone!”

In 1965 the leftist Sukarno, was overthrown by the authoritarian dictator Suharto. Every member of the Communist Party of Indonesia they could find, was rounded up and murdered. One of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century.

In 1969 the Indonesians conducted the so called ‘act of free choice’:

It was run by the infamous TNI – Tentara National Indonesi ( the Indonesian Army, a law unto itself) The U.N. stipulated that every local Melanesian adult could vote,( over 900,000 people) but the T.N.I. hand picked 1000 village chiefs, whom they convinced, via threats and bribery, to throw in their lot with Indonesia. The vote was unanimous, quite an unusual outcome for a free democratic vote.

In July 1971 the Melanesian people of West Papua declared their independence, but unfortunately no one was listening, or almost no one. The Peoples Republic of West Papua is recognized by one country, Vanuatu. Very soon after, the Freeport mine began operation in the province, the largest and most profitable gold mine in the world. This mine remains the largest obstacle to independence for the people of West Papua.

 

Meanwhile, in 1975 there was a revolution in Portugal. In an act of gross irresponsibility, the Portuguese unburdened themselves of their remaining colonial assets, including Timor L’este. The Indonesians moved into the vacuum, snuffing out a brief flowering of freedom for the Timorese. It would be 25 years before they once more regained their sovereignty, due largely to the efforts of one man: Jose Ramos Horta, the Timorese ambassador to the U.N. who devoted his considerable diplomatic skills to putting the Tiny country on the map.

But West Papua is not Timor L’este. It was not administered by a European Colonial power for 500 years. It is not, and does not want to become, part of the modern world. An admirable ideal, but one that makes it very difficult to get heard in the clamour of the rat race. As the last of the unadulterated indigenous peoples of the world become swamped by the metastasizing cancer of Consumerism, keeping up the unique way of life of the people of West Papua becomes ever more precious, for them and for all of humanity.

 

Ben Laycock 2016