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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 467-476

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West Papua

Chris Ballard
Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University

The gap continued to widen between Indonesian central government rhetoric and performance on the ground in its troubled eastern province of Irian Jaya during 2001. If carrots were proffered to the province, in the form of a law on "Special Autonomy" that is due to be implemented in 2002, sticks were still wielded vigorously by the government's security apparatus, with the police and military acting in concert with the judiciary. Among the elementson offerintheSpecial Autonomy package is an apparent concession on use of the name "Papua" for the province, but the failure to satisfy a widely voiced Papuan preference for "West Papua" and the retention in official usage of the alternative but deeply unpopular "Irian Jaya" (Great or Victorious Irian) are symptomatic of a continued reluctance on the part of government to engage seriously in dialogue with its Papuan citizens.

The fall of President Suharto in May 1998 had ushered ina short-lived "Papuan Spring," a brief eighteen-month period during which civilian political expression in Papua flourished and calls for independence were relatively freely voiced. A formal dialogue held in Jakarta in February 1999between President Habibie and a team of a hundred Papuan representatives alerted the government to the depth of pro-independence sentiment in Papua. This sentiment then found more public expression in the form of two mass meetings in Jayapura, a Convention or Musyawarah Besar in February 2000, and a Congress in May-June 2000. The Congress, dubbed the "Second Papuan Congress" in acknowledgement of the Papuan Congress of 1961, issued a number of ambitious declarations, each of them unacceptable to Jakarta: a demand that Jakarta recognize the unilateral declaration of independence issued by the first Papuan Congress on 1 December 1961; a repudiation of the 1962 NewYorkAgreement and the subsequent 1969 "Act of Free Choice" or PEPERA which, in the eyes of the United Nations, saw former Dutch New Guinea formally incorporated within Indonesia; a rejection of central government plans to carve Papua into three separate provinces; a fiat issued to the leadership of the Congress to seek international support for the cause of independence; and a call for the immediate involvement of the United Nations in a transfer of powers to an independent Papuan state.

A panel of Papuan leaders, the Papuan Presidium Council (Presidium Dewan Papua or PDP), emerged from the SecondCongress, headed by Chairman Theys Eluay andVice Chairman Tom Beanal. Theys, an elected chief from Lake Sentani, had formerly enjoyed a close relationship with Jakarta but had developed a somewhat ambivalent position since 1998 as an outspoken advocate of independence [End Page 467] while maintaining close personal and business relationships with various military officers. Tom Beanal, leader of the Amungme community in the area of the Freeport mine, was perhaps more widely respected as a genuine champion of Papuan rights, but early in 2000 he had decided to accept a position on the board of Freeport Indonesia.

Under the presidency of AbdurrahmanWahid, elected in November 1999, the Papuan Presidium Council and its supporters enjoyed an unprecedented latitude of political movement and expression. Across Papua, previously banned "Morning Star" flags associated with the independence movements were raised on 1 December 1999, and local community security posts (posko) established. Wahid's political and substantial financial support for the Second Congress played a part in his fall from power in July 2001, when Wahid was replaced by his strongly nationalist vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Megawati's new cabinet restored hard-line nationalists and former generals to key positions, notably Gen. (ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, Gen. (ret.) Hari Subarno as Home Affairs Minister, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono as the head of the new National Intelligence Bureau. Under their direction, the hard-won concessions of provinces such as Aceh and Papua have systematically been rolled back in a return to the military dominance of regional planning and administration that characterized the 1970s and early 1980s...


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