Dutch New Guinea/West Irian

On the western side of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is situated West Irian, a province of Indonesia. A colony of the Netherlands after August 1828, it was known earlier as Dutch New Guinea or West New Guinea. In 1961 it was renamed Irian Barat (West Irian), and in 1973 it was renamed Irian Jaya. The whole of western New Guinea was named Papua in 2002. In February 2003 the western portion of Papua was separated and renamed West Irian Jaya. The Indonesia constitutional court in 2004 did not allow the division of Papua into three regions, but accepted the creation of the West Irian Jaya province, carved from Papua’s western region.

The Netherlands controlled Dutch New Guinea even after the Hague Agreement of December 1949, which transferred sovereignty to the Indonesian federal government. The Indonesian leader Ahmed Sukarno (1901–70) did not want any remnant of Dutch colonialism. The Indonesian army occupied New Guinea in 1961. An agreement was signed on August 15, 1962, by which power was transferred to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) for six years from 1963. Indonesia had administrative power over the territory from May 1, 1963. West Irian was incorporated with Indonesia as its 27th province in November 1969. This Act of Free Choice was not accepted by various groups and raised controversy. In the U.S. Congress a bill was brought in 2006 that questioned the validity of the Act of Free Choice. The independence leaders also had not accepted the merger of West Irian with Indonesia in the act.

Opposition to Indonesian rule and the desire for independence as a free nation were held by a sizable portion of the population. In December 1963 the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM, or Free Papua Movement) was established. It launched a guerrilla campaign against the Indonesian government in 1970 and set up an independent government the next year. Its military wing, known as the Liberation Army of OPM, indulged in terrorist activities. Kelly Kwalik, the commander, was responsible for the kidnapping of Indonesians and foreigners. He had also targeted the multinationals operat- ing in the region. Moses Werror was the chairperson of the Revolutionary Council of OPM, based in Madang, Papua New Guinea. The Satgas Papua is another proindependence organization. Theys Hijo Eluay’s (1937– 2001) Lembaga Musyawarah Adat Papua (Papuan Customary Council Assembly) believed in nonviolent methods. Eluay was murdered in 2001. The Indonesian armed forces along with its paramilitary group, Barisan Merah Putih, was active in suppressing the secessionist movement.

The clashes between the army and the rebels continued from 2003 to 2004. The Papua governor, J. P. Salossa, wanted serious implementation of autonomy status. The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had invited Governor Salossa and Papua provincial council speaker Jhon Ibo to Jakarta on August 10, 2006, for talks.


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