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Free Papua Movement
Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM)

PIO Box 11582,
The Hague, Netherlands

Irian Jaya, the former Dutch New Guinea or West New Guinea, remained under Dutch control after Indonesian independence in 1949. In 1961, in Operation Trikora, Indonesian forces took over West New Guinea, renaming it Irian Barat in the process. A combination of Indonesian political and military pressure and international efforts led to an October 1962 Dutch transfer of sovereignty to the United Nations (UN) Temporary Executive Authority, which was supported by a military observer force that oversaw the cease-fire. In May 1963, full administrative control was handed over to Indonesia. After a 1969 Act of Free Choice, the territory, which the Indonesians called Irian Barat (West Irian) until 1972, was integrated into the republic as Indonesia's twenty-sixth province. Rich in natural resources, Irian Jaya (Victorious Irian)--as the province was renamed in 1972--is the largest and least-populated province.

Opposition to Indonesian control has existed since 1963. This opposition takes two forms: those in favor of a federation with Papua New Guinea, and those whom prefer independence as West Papua or "West Melanesia." The 'Act of Free Choice' in 1969 involved little more than a small number of hand-picked indigeneous Papuans who were taught a few simple pro-Indonesian phrases in Indonesian language and then told to say them in front of an audience. It was not in any way a 'choice', or 'free', and certainly did not involve the consent of even a substantial minority of the population, let alone a majority.

Cultural differences between Indonesians and the indigenous population and complaints about the Javanization of Irian Jaya exacerbated tensions. The cultural conflict was aggravated by indigenous people's perceptions that they were being left behind economically by a flood of Indonesian immigrants coming in via the central government sponsored transmigration program. Native-born Irianese also resented the so-called spontaneous immigrants who dominated the informal sectors of urban economies. International critics of Indonesian policy in Irian Jaya accused the central government of waging a kind of demographic genocide.

Indonesia's efforts to exploit the resources and assimilate the indigenous Papuan and Melanesian populations into the national administration and culture met sporadic armed resistance from the Free Papua Movement and aroused international concerns. Since the 1960s the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM), which has its own flag, has waged a low-level but diehard guerilla separatist campaign. The campaign peaked in the late 1970s with attacks on government outposts. Although the OPM became a marginal domestic actor, more visible as an international symbol, the fact of its existence justified an intimidating Indonesian military presence in the province, where suspicions about Irianese loyalties led to abuses in the civil-military relationship.

The US Government asserts that the Free Papua Movement has committed human rights abuses including hostage-taking and summary executions, and it may be targeting US citizens or US companies in Irian Jaya Province for hostage taking or for sabotage. In 1996, a group of foreigners was taken hostage in Irian Jaya by the Free Papua Movement, although they have since been released. In January 1997 the Free Papua Movement took 26 people hostage in Mapunduma village. Several of the hostages were released, but 11 Indonesians and foreigners were released after a military operation in May 1997. Two of the Indonesian hostages were believed to have been killed by the OPM during the release operation.

Free Papua Movement supporters assert, to the contrary, that human rights abuses have been committed by Indonesian Special Forces (KOMPASSUS), and that the US mining conglomerate Freeport McMoRan has been responsible for environmental abuses in West Papua.

Sources and Resources

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