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Views by Asian and Western opinion leaders on current events in Asia
Wahid should open talks with Irian Jaya separatists

In Indonesia's easternmost province of Irian Jaya, independence rallies held Dec. 1 last year often lead to the arrests of key independence-movement activists and skirmishes between local residents and riot police. However, not many people know about the historical background of the independence and separation movement that again flared up in the region around Dec. 1.

Like other regions of Indonesia, Irian Jaya, formerly called West New Guinea, is a former Dutch colony.

After officially colonizing the region in 1828, the Dutch government declared in 1910 that it would cut off Netherlands-held New Guinea from the rest of present-day Indonesia, then called the Netherlands Indies, and would make Irian Jaya a separate colony.

Because of this development, Netherlands-ruled New Guinea remained the only Dutch colony in the region when sovereignty was transferred from the Netherlands to Indonesia in 1949.

During the 1950s, the Indonesian government tried to ``recover'' Netherlands-possessed New Guinea through the United Nations. This attempt was not only unsuccessful, but it also prompted the Netherlands to place West New Guinea under the jurisdiction of the United Nations in 1961 with the aim of making ``Papua'' an independent nation.

In response to such moves by the Dutch government, local pro-independence activists instituted a national flag of Papua carrying ``the morning star'' and the national anthem Hai Tanahku Papua (our homeland Papua) on Oct. 19, 1961.

On Dec. 1, the Dutch government instructed West New Guinea to hoist the Dutch and Papua flags together, thereby indicating that it had granted Papua its independence.

As a result, people calling for Irian Jaya's independence regard Dec. 1 as ``Independence Day'' and again last year citizens staged demonstrations for independence and separation from Indonesia.

Conflicts over control of the region continued to flare up even after Dec. 1, 1961. First, in mid-December of that same year, then-Indonesian President Sukarno initiated a military offensive to annex West New Guinea.

In 1963, the Netherlands transferred the sovereignty of West New Guinea to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority with the United States acting as an intermediary.

From July 14, 1969 to Aug. 2, 1969, a referendum was held under U.N. monitoring to determine whether West New Guinea would belong to Indonesia. In accordance with the results of the referendum, the United Nations adopted resolution No. 2504, which led to Irian Jaya's annexation by Indonesia at the end of the year.

Although supporters of Irian Jaya independence still question the legitimacy of the referendum, it is clear that the administration of this region has always been toyed with by major countries to suit the needs of those countries.

This trend also can be seen in the province's name. In annexing West New Guinea, Indonesia avoided the name New Guinea, which the Netherlands used, and called it Irian, which means "sun" or "red hot" in the local language. However, the name was also given a political connotation during the operation to recapture West New Guinea during the early 1960s as the acronym for Ikut Republik Indonesia, Anti Nederland (annexation to Indonesia, anti-Netherlands).

In light of this political context, locals today prefer the name "Papua." In fact, in his New Year address earlier last year, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid proposed to change the province's name from Irian Jaya to Papua. However, since the name change requires the approval of the national assembly, the proposal has yet to materialize.

Theys Eluay, representative for Dewan Presidium Papua (Papuan Presidium Council), said Papuans became independent Dec. 1, 1961, but he also said he would welcome a dialogue with the national government.

Considering the history of suffering by the people of Irian Jaya, the Wahid administration is urged to take a conciliatory stance that gives priority to dialogue in dealing with the separation movement.

The author is the executive director of the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Indonesia.

2001/1/8
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