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A Short History of West Papua

Papua and West Papua Provinces of Indonesia (photo: shutterstock)

To understand the current political situation in Papua and West Papua provinces, it is necessary to examine recent history. What is now known as Indonesia was the most important Dutch colony until the end of World War II.

The struggle for independence was a difficult fight for freedom, and the Dutch were very reluctant to give up their jewel in Asia. After the Indonesians, led by President Sukarno, declared independence in 1945, the Dutch did not formally relinquish their sovereignty until the end of 1949 and only after great pressure on the world.

All the regions of Dutch East Indies became the Republic of Indonesia except the Dutch New Guinea or Irian Jaya (hereinafter referred to as West Papua). The Dutch were able to maintain some control over West Papua through some more deceptive tactics until the early 1960s. Please read Papua Ab Initio Belongs to Indonesia for clearer facts of the history of West Papua.

Since 1963, West Papua has been returned to Indonesia against the will of with the full backing of Australia and the US against the will of the Dutch. So, the embittered Dutch colonial government created an insurgency movement in West Papua. Despite decades of social and economic development, small number of Papuans are still terrorizing their fellow Papuans up to demand their national liberation in Indonesia and Internationally.

The referendum in West Papua also known as the Act of Free Choice happened in 1969. It was based on the agreement in 1962 between the Dutch and Indonesian states to hold a referendum. Thus, by the mid 1960s, the Dutch government betrayed the agreement by secretly created Free Papua Movement in order to challenge Indonesian rule. The Indonesian government launched security operation to dissolve the movement. In response, the Dutch then betrayed Free Papua Movement and leave them alone in the jungle. That is why until today the young generation of West Papuan who are descendant of Free Papua Movement members are so angry with the Dutch colonial power and continue to provoke conflict by selling the false story of West Papua history . In contrast, the majority of Papuans are very satisfied with the current development of West Papua.

Historically, colonial rule has always been seen as evil and there has always been resistance against it. West Papuans with other ethnic groups in Indonesia have survived three colonial occupations — first the Dutch and Portuguese, then the Japanese during World War II, and now under the democratic Indonesian government and Papuan local government they finally free to develop the regions.

After the Suharto “New Order” regime was overthrown in 1997, the incipient West Papuan separatist movement was re-born. It is that movement that has gained some momentum. Unfortunately, a small scale rebellion of Free West Papua turned into violence and terror against West Papuan people who disagree with Free West Papua movement. If Free West Papua smart enough, they should have used the opportunity of democracy in Indonesia as a way to bargain for better social, politic and economic development under the widely agreed special autonomy arrangement.

Since the 1998 political reform movement in Indonesia, democracy has answered many problems in Indonesia including the grievance of people in all provinces of Indonesia, including Papua and West Papua province. In 2001, Indonesian government introduce the special autonomy law to give more fund and to support Papuan local leaders to have more role.

Democracy further give an opportunity for Papuan to express their demand for better development including the creation of new autonomous region. The first proposal regarding the division of the province in Papua has been heard since November 2021. At that time the Minister of Home Affairs Muhammad Tito Karnavian said, if there were several proposals for new provinces consisting of Papua Province Tabi Saireri, Central Mountains Province, South Papua Province, Central Papua Province, and Southwest Papua Province. This proposal was based on the aspiration of Papuan people.

A member of the People’s Legislative Assembly (DPR) from Papua, Yan Permenas Mandenas who proposed the expansion of the province of North Papua said: “every development that takes place in Papua, including the expansion of the province, is claimed to have the main objectives of equity, ease of access, harmonious relations between regions, prosperity, and reducing inequality”. He also explained that there are those who think that remote communities in Papua are not only in mountainous areas but also in coastal areas, and there are still many who have not received government services as they should.

As a final note, early in his presidency, Jokowi stated that he wanted “the approach in Papua to change” and no longer be a “repressive security approach.” However, Indonesian peaceful approach against Free West Papua separatist group is seen as a weakness and the armed wing of Free West Papua movement, the West Papua Liberation Army takes this opportunity to launch violence terror attack against the innocent people who live in the regions.

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This Blog has gone through many obstacles and attacks from violent Free West Papua separatist supporters and ultra nationalist Indonesian since 2007. However, it has remained throughout a time devouring thoughts of how to bring peace to Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia.

15 thoughts on “A Short History of West Papua Leave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on Papua Update and commented:
    Hi West Papua Online, thank you for sharing a very nice article of the history of West Papua.

    I would like to add several notes:

    A former Dutch colony, West Papua has formally returned to Indonesia in 1969.

    The undisputed vote of about 1,025 representative tribal leaders has chosen to join Indonesia.

    The United Nations endorsed the result of the plebiscite and the world recognized West Papua as part Indonesia.

    West Papuan people have elected the leaders of Papua and West Papua provinces.

  2. Thank you for sharing a really interesting post on West Papua history.
    Telling the truth about West Papua history is very important and your article is absolutely correct. I would like also to highlight the importance of understanding West Papuan better and the article that I copied from Indonesian newspaper Jakarta Post is still one of the best, in my opinion. If you have time please read this article: Separatism in Papua: Perceptions or misperceptions on Papuans

    Papua Story

  3. Wawawa, Shalom,
    Terima kasih kaka James di Eropa, ade baru saja belajar buat blog untuk taruh foto dan cerita tentang Papua dan West Papua dan sebentar lagi mungkin dengan terbentuknya beberapa provinsi baru dan kabupaten serta kota yang sedang diperjuangkan rakyat Papua. Mohon ade dapat terus dibimbing. Tuhan berkati kaka James.

    Ini alamat blog ade: Koteka Wawawa

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