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« Dear UN.... re West Papua.... | Main | Port Moresby ‘cash-for-arrests’ idea was replete with danger »

10 January 2019


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Chad Sherrin

Excellent analysis Chris, but OPM will need support and that doesn't appear forthcoming for much the same reasons that allowed the hugely unjustified invasion by Indonesia in the first place.

Indonesia is hedging its bets against a possible vote through the large numbers if Javanese being resettled.

Rashmii Bell

Hi Chris. Thank you for this detailed, informative piece. A bit of of history in there that I didn't know.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks Johnny - my mistake.

Two very pleasant looking towns.

Johnny Blades

Phil, I believe Manokwari is the capital of West Papua province, not Sorong.

Sorong is the largest city in that province though.

Philip Fitzpatrick

For the sake of clarity and to avoid confusion it is useful to remember that there are two provinces in the western half of New Guinea governed by Indonesia.

West Papua is the smaller western province centred round what is known as the Birds Head Peninsula. Its capital is Sorong.

West Papua is essentially where Asia meets Melanesia and the cultural mix in the province reflects that fact.

The much large province to the east is called Papua. Except for a minority of mostly Javanese migrants it is entirely Melanesian. Its capital is Jayapura. This is the province where the greatest calls for independence from Indonesia originate.

The role of containing these calls is carried out by the Indonesian military, the TNI. Javanese membership of the TNI is disproportionate, largely as a result of population pressures in Java. Most of the transmigration to Papua and West Papua comes from Java.

The TNI has a fearsome reputation for brutality. It is also extremely corrupt and has business interests all over Indonesia and a big say in how Indonesia is governed.

The TNI was also a major part of the problem in East Timor before it gained independence.

As a patrol officer in Western Province in 1969 I witnessed some of the brutality carried out by the TNI. My son later saw the same thing in East Timor.

Part of our job as kiaps was supposed to be turning back refugees fleeing from the Indonesians. I don’t recall any kiap in the field actually doing this. In most cases we simple forgot to report incidents of border crossings.

The proponents of independence, including the OPM, are in a typical Catch-22 situation. To promulgate their cause they need a narrative of oppression but that oppression, courtesy of the TNI, is excessive.

Fighting the TNI is recipe for more bloodshed but if they don’t fight them they have no narrative to advance their cause. Because of TNI media suppression the alternative of peacefully bringing their cause to the world is simply not there.

This might be different if countries like Australia, New Zealand and the USA was supportive but they are not. They are too scared of waking the sleeping giant contained in Indonesia’s large Muslim population.

When 43 asylum seekers from Papua arrived in Australia by boat in 2006 Australia gave them refuge against Indonesia’s wishes. As a result a defence treaty, known as the Lombok Treaty, was agreed between the two countries.

As part of the treaty, both countries pledged not to support "in any manner" any activities that threatened the "stability, sovereignty or territorial activity" of the other, including separatist groups operating in their own territories.

The debate about the future of “West Papua” that has been running on PNG Attitude has tended to conflate both of the provinces under the one name and confuse the issue.

There might very well be a case for West Papua, the small western-most province, to be considered part of Indonesia but ethnically and culturally the larger Papua Province has a convincing case for independence.

To do that the OPM and others will have to continue their hopeless guerrilla activities against the TNI to maintain the narrative of oppression in the hope that the world will listen.

It is a sad and dispiriting prospect.

Paul Oates

There is however one immense sticking point Occidentals find hard to understand unless one takes an interest in the customs and culture of our nearest neighbours.

Loss of face in an Asian culture is an immense factor that most be negotiated around to ensure it doesn't happen. Just look what happened after the East Timor situation.

The crux of the matter is that those who hold the cards need to be involved. When Indonesia invaded West Papua, the US supported them over Australia and the Netherlands in what seems to have been a decision based on purely economic and strategic grounds.

Therefore, what has significantly changed from that situation over 60 years ago?

Simon Davidson

Chris - Thank you for the informative piece. Given the blood bath the Papuans are experiencing, the history of Algeria serves as a beacon of hope on the hill for the guerrilla fighters.

This mode to reach their dream of statehood can be possible given the UN's ineptitude to address poignant issues affecting universal rights of people achieve nationhood.

The second option is also viable to end the violence in a more peaceful way.

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