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The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 207-208

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The West New Guinea Debacle: Dutch Colonisation and Indonesia 1945-1962, by CLM Penders. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press; Adelaide: Crawford House Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-8248-2470-9; viii + 490 pages, tables, map, glossary, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$39.00.

Following the fall of President Suharto in 1998, there was a burgeoning of separatist sentiments in the outer islands of Indonesia. In East Timor this culminated in a vote for independence. In Irian Jaya/West Papua, too, where the Organisasi Papua Merdeka had maintained a low level of insurgency for almost thirty years, there was an upsurge of nationalist feeling and new demands for independence, or at least autonomy. After some loosening of Jakarta's grip over the province—with the Indonesian government eventually accepting its renaming as Papua—central authority has been reasserted and a policy of repression has been resumed.

Amid the briefly revived international interest in West Papuan claims to a separate state, there was some looking back to the messy history of the Netherlands' reluctant decolonization, and the circumstances that resulted in the so-called Act of Free Choice (popularly known as the Act Free of Choice) by which West Papua was formally incorporated into the Indonesian Republic in 1969.

The West New Guinea Debacle, by Dutch-born Australian scholar Chris Penders, is thus timely. It surveys the genesis of the West New Guinea/West Papua question in the period before and immediately after the Second World War, details the processes of decolonization and nationalization across Indonesia between 1950 and 1958, provides a detailed account of the international dispute over West Papua from 1949 to 1962, and concludes with a chapter appropriately entitled "The Papuans Betrayed."

The West Papua story is a sad tale of initial colonial neglect followed by the nurturing of unrealistic expectations of sovereignty on the part of the Dutch colonial government; of bloody-mindedness on the part of Indonesia's post-independence leaders, who made it clear that they would not allow the mandated vote on the future status of West Papua to yield anything [End Page 207] other than a vote for incorporation into the republic; and a shameful disinterest on the part of international actors,who (apart from a small group of former French African nations) ultimately saw more to be gained from appeasing a noncommunist government in Indonesia than from supporting the claims of the West Papuan people to self-determination, and who were prepared to ignore the clear evidence that West Papuans had been denied a real choice in 1969.

Others have written about Dutch decolonization in Indonesia and about the West New Guinea question, but Penders' account is the most detailed study available, making extensive use of Dutch archival material. It makes an important contribution to the literature on decolonization and will be an invaluable source for students of Indonesian, and West Papuan, history.

Ron May
Australian National University