West Papua gains allies in its quest for self-determination, after decades of Indonesian oppression

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New Guinea — the second biggest island in the world, lies to Australia’s north. Predatory colonialism by the Netherlands, Germany, England, Australia and Indonesia has devastated the way of life for hundreds of Melanesian indigenous nations and exploited this resource-rich territory.

The eastern half of the island, Papua New Guinea, was granted full independence from Australia in 1975. West Papua — a former Dutch colony — is today an unwilling province of Indonesia, their struggle for independence brutally repressed.

Its long struggle for self-determination has recently forged a united leadership group to sustain and press their war for liberation and cultural survival.

The Act of No Choice. By the late 1950s, West Papuans were moving towards independence. On Dec. 1, 1961, they raised their flag — the Morning Star — and sang their national anthem as they formally announced their independence from the Dutch. It was short lived. In 1962, Indonesian troops seized the territory under the UN-brokered “New York Agreement” signed by the Netherlands and Indonesia. The West Papuans were promised an “Act of Free Choice” to accept or reject Indonesian rule.

The vote finally took place in 1969 and was a fraud, carried out under the barrels of Indonesian guns that killed thousands before the vote. Indonesia picked 1,025 electors and then threatened them before their so-called unanimous vote for integration into Indonesia.

Trampling cultures. Under military occupation, West Papuans aptly characterise their treatment as genocidal. As many as 500,000 indigenous peoples are estimated to have been killed during the last half century.

West Papua has a higher rate of poverty than other Indonesian provinces and the lowest life expectancy, particularly for women who live an average of just 50 years. The dangerous contraceptives Depo-Provera and Norplant are shoved on them — genocide by sterilisation.

Rainforests and other land have been taken over by the government and corporations to make way for transmigrants. Indonesia imposes an internal migration program to forcibly assimilate indigenous peoples. More than 750,000 Indonesians, predominantly Javanese enticed by government subsidies and the promise of government jobs, have swamped West Papua.

Indonesian-controlled education seeks to “civilise” the West Papuans: the mandatory language is Bahasa Indonesia and schools promote Indonesian identity over literacy and mathematics.

Papuan activists campaigning for self-determination are routinely arrested and jailed for expressing their political opinions. It is illegal to raise the Morning Star flag. Arrest is arbitrary, trials unfair and political prisoners subject to abuse and torture.

Grand theft plot. The Indonesian government is breaking West Papua up into smaller administrative units. This program, called pemekaran, is a form of social engineering to erode traditional ways of life by removing indigenous West Papuan landowners into regional centres, freeing remote areas for more intensive resource exploitation and other inappropriate developments. Mining companies from Australia, Canada, France, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S. are all profiting handsomely while giving nothing to the local residents but toxic tailings.

The abundant resources are a treasure trove for multinational corporations and the Indonesian state, which has a “Go East” economic development program. Vast tracts of the region have now been logged, threatening bio-diversity.

The Freeport Mine is the best example of the clash between communal indigenous values and international capitalism. The Indonesian government signed the contract to establish Freeport in 1967, two years before the “Act of No Choice.” Freeport, 40 percent owned by Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, is the world’s largest and most profitable gold and copper mine. Despite generous tax concessions it is still the largest taxpayer in Indonesia’s economy. Yet the miners at the West Papuan operation are paid less than any Freeport employees on the planet.

Freeport is a toxic environmental vandal, dumping 230,000 tonnes of tailings a day into the river systems, which flow into the Arafura Sea. It is so important to the Indonesian economy that the company effectively rules the province, aided by bought-off police, military personnel and government officials.

Australian complicity. West Papua is too profitable for Indonesia’s rulers to part with and the Australian government provides full military and diplomatic support for the oppression of its peoples. Prior to 1962 Australia favoured the gradual unification of the entire island of New Guinea. But once chained to Indonesia, the populace became disposable, its lands subordinated to the interests of capitalist trade and political stability in the region.

The Australian government’s racist obsession with stopping refugees fleeing persecution and poverty is also a factor. In January 2006, 43 West Papuans arrived on Australia’s north shores by canoe. They were granted refugee status, provoking uproar in Indonesia. The two powers repaired their relationship by signing the Lombok Treaty, which expanded military and intelligence ties, committed to joint border patrols and bound both countries to respect each other’s sovereignty and refrain from “interference” in internal affairs.

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Melanesia is a geographic area

with cultural and linguistic ties.

It includes the independent countries

of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands,

Vanuatu, and Fiji; the French colony of

New Caledonia; and West Papua.

Solidarity grows. Despite Indonesian-Australian collusion, the determination of the West Papuan peoples to win independence is undimmed. The struggle took an important step forward in December 2014 at a summit of the “Melanesian Spearhead Group” (MSG) in the island nation of Vanuatu. This regional leadership body includes other small Pacific nations. The delegation brought together West Papuan leaders from lowland and highland tribal groups and from the diaspora, unifying them into a single leadership group — the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. They elected Benny Wenda as their spokesperson who announced this was the most important gathering of indigenous leaders in 52 years.

On Feb. 4, 2015 the new United Liberation Movement applied for membership of the MSG. Wenda said, “We believe this is an urgent matter to resolve because of the ongoing atrocities committed by the Indonesian military and the program of transmigration, which is accelerating and according to current trends, means that indigenous Papuans will only make up 28 percent of the population by 2020.”

The battle cry of the West Papuan struggle is Merdeka, which means freedom. Freedom Socialist Party stands with them!

View Land of the Morning Star on YouTube to learn more.

Send feedback to alison.thorne@ozemail.com.au.

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