Wednesday, May 19, 1999

West Papua: resistance continues

By Chris Latham

Since West Papua was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian control in 1963, the region has been subject to continuous human rights violations by the Indonesian regime and its armed forces.

In 1969, the Indonesian regime organised a phony "act of free choice" on West Papua's status. Only 1000 of the 1.8 million West Papuans were able to vote. Those who did were threatened and intimidated into voting for integration with Indonesia.

Since that time, any indication of support for an independent West Papua has been met with violence and repression. In 1977, villagers in the southern highlands, near the giant US-owned Freeport copper mine, were bombed because they were accused of collaborating with the Free West Papua Movement (OPM). OPM fighters cut the pipes taking the copper slurry down the coast.

In 1979, the Indonesian military killed 3000 members of the Dani tribe in the central highlands because they refused to swap their traditional clothing for trousers. In 1996, 22 West Papuans were massacred in the region near the Freeport mine.

In response to the political turmoil inside Indonesia, protests escalated in 1998. On July 2, 700 people in Biak raised the West Papuan flag and declared independence from Indonesia. The Indonesian government flew in troops on July 6 to remove the flag, killing five people and wounding 150 others in the operation. In the following week, the body count reached 70 as Indonesian troops hunted and killed independence supporters.

This crackdown sparked an angry response. Thousands of people raised the West Papuan flag in defiance of Indonesia. In February, Habibie was forced to hold a meeting with 100 West Papuan leaders, who demanded independence.

On May 14, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer confirmed that there had been a new crackdown in West Papua. There are now 48 West Papuan political prisoners in Indonesia's jails. The police have banned discussion of the February meeting with Habibie. Many of the 100 West Papuans who attended this meeting have been harassed and intimidated by Indonesian authorities.

This article originally appeared in Green Left Weekly #361

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