The Guardian April 21, 1999

West Papua:
Independence now!

The repressive acts of the Indonesian military against liberation 
movements in East Timor, the island of Maluku to the west and Aceh in north 
Sumatra, bodes ill for the people of West Papua, whose leaders defied 
Indonesian President Habibie in February by demanding independence by 

The ultimatum was given to Habibie at talks in Jakarta held on February 26. 
Although they were officially dubbed a "Dialog Nasional" (national 
dialogue), the West Papuan delegation was carefully screened and selected 
by the Indonesian state security agencies to exclude the more outspoken 
independence advocates, such as the Chairman of the Council of Traditional 
Chiefs, Theys Eluay, Chairman of the Combined Christian Churches in West 
Papua, Reverend Karel Philip Erari, and even the two former governors, 
Barnabas Suebu and Isaac Hindom.

This "vetting" by Indonesian authorities was intended to ensure a vote for 
"Irian Jaya" to remain part of Indonesia. But of the 76 members of the 
delegation, representing a broad-based coalition of traditional chiefs, 
political activists, academics, civil servants, churches, women, student 
and youth groups, only four succumbed to Indonesian pressure and opted for 
a political status other than outright independence.

The majority demanded instead that the people of West Papua be allowed the 
right to set up their own fully independent sovereign nation no later than 
April this year.

The delegation did not mince words, reading a blunt statement to Habibie 
and assembled Indonesian leaders that said in part: "It is important to 
recognise from the outset that the fundamental issue that has given rise to 
the prevailing political instability and security-related problems in West 
Papua (Irian Jaya) dating back to 1961 cannot be solely blamed on the 
apparent failure of the Government of Indonesia in attending to the 
province's development needs.

"The real cause for this unfortunate state of affairs can be clearly traced 
to developments associated with the then emerging political status of West 
Papua, which at that point in time was on the verge of becoming a fully 
fledged independent sovereign nation, thereby offering an opportune 
alternative for the people of West Papua to finally realise their hopes and 
aspirations to take their rightful place among other nations of the world, 
had it not been for the forced annexation of the territory by Indonesia."

The delegation said it did not "see any need for us to even discuss the 
renewed desire or intentions of the Indonesian Government to develop our 
land and our people within the context of a united state of the Republic of 

Instead, they issued a three-point demand:

"1. It is the unanimous wish of the entire people of West Papua to become a 
fully independent sovereign state and to take our rightful place among 
other nations of the world;

"2. The Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the people of West 
Papua, on the basis of mutual trust, jointly take all necessary steps and 
be responsible for ensuring the successful implementation of all relevant 
decisions in an amicable manner towards realising the expressed wishes of 
the people in establishing a fully independent sovereign state of West 
Papua no later than March 1999;

"3. In the event that the wishes of the people of West Papua are not 
adhered to, as stated in point number one, it will be necessary for the 
Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the people of West Papua to 
enter a process of a negotiated settlement internationally no later than 
April 1999 under the direct auspices of the United Nations."

There is stiff opposition within Indonesia to a fully independent West 
Papua. The country's rich gold and copper deposits, as well as oil, gas, 
timber and marine resources already contribute significantly to the 
Indonesian economy.

President Habibie's reaction to the demand for independence was to appeal 
for "calm" and to urge the West Papuan leaders to return home and get their 
people to instead consider "alternatives other than full independence".

The meeting with Habibie and especially the demand for independence has 
been deliberately played down in Indonesia, the Government citing 
unspecified "security reasons".

Back to index page