Papua is one of the Indonesian provinces located in the eastern part of Indonesia with a total area of 421,981 square kilometers. More than 71% of the Papua region consists of rainforest. Although Indonesia has declared its independence since 1945, 17 Agustus, the journey to embrace Papua is still a long and a winding one until today.
The Agency for the Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI) conducted a meeting on July 14, 1945, and came to an agreement that Papua was part of Indonesia. Based on the concept of international law, Uti Posideti Juris, a country inherits territory previously occupied by its colonial state. Therefore, Indonesia inherits Papua.
After the independence of Indonesia, at the Round Table Conference (KMB) on December 27, 1949, the Netherlands handed over its sovereignty to Indonesia. They insist on excluding Papua from the territory of Indonesia, saying that due to racial differences because of their Melanesian race.
Eleven years after Indonesia declared its independence, its endeavours to settle the territorial dispute greeted with no response from the Netherlands. The forum was brought to the United Nations in 1954, 1955, 1957, and 1960.
Papua Integrates with NKRI
On January 2, 1962, through Presidential Decree No. 1/1962, then-president Sukarno formed Komando Mandala, a military operation to seize Papua. With the pressure from the Indonesian military, the Netherlands has no choice other than proposing renegotiations.
The signing of the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962, marked the Netherlands official handover of West Papua to Indonesia. The agreement required Indonesia to conduct the Act of Free Choice (Pepera) where the people of western Papua were free to decide whether to join the Unitary Republic of Indonesia. Indonesia chose 1,024 people to represent the vote of 800,000 people in Papua. The result? West Papua was officially integrating with Indonesia.
On October 1, 1962, the Netherlands handed over the administrative authority of Papua to UNTEA (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority). On December 31, 1962, the official Netherlands flag was lowered, and the red and white flag was hoisted as a sign of the start of Indonesia’s de jure rule over Papua.
After integrating with Indonesia, this area was called Irian Barat from 1963 to 1973. On December 1, 1963, Irian Barat finally became independent, and the date is set as Papuan independence day.
Suharto continued military operations in Irian Barat in 1966, resulting at least 40 people were killed by bullets by the Air Force; the village of Ayamaru district was burned down; the Kepala Burung village area was also pelted with grenades and bombs. He later called Irian Barat as Irian Jaya when he inaugurated the Freeport gold mine. The name is officially used in Law No.21/2001 on Papua Special Autonomy.
The New Order regime adopted a security approach with ABRI (military) as the government’s front line, assisted by the Police to oust OPM (Free Papua Organization) and other separatist movements. The involvement of the Police in Papua led to the Biak Berdarah incident in 1998 where the Papuan people who raised the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag bashed by the joint TNI and Polri personnel.
The Morning Star symbol on the West Papua flag is a symbol of the Koreri movement, a traditional and cultural movement of a tribe. In 1961, when representatives from all regions of West Papua came together to choose a symbol of national identity, it was agreed that the Morning Star should become the symbol for West Papua.
Laporan Imparsial (Impartial Report) stated that Indonesia’s policies regarding Papua start changing under the BJ Habibie administration (1998-1999), using mostly police as safeguards. The approach has become more diplomatic.
Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), who was elected in 1999, tried to embody Habibie’s diplomacy. He changed the name Irian Jaya to Papua and permitted the hoisting of the Morning Star flag adjacent to the Red and White flag. For him, the flag is a symbol of Papuan culture and not political. However, Gus Dur’s peaceful steps were ignored by the military and his vice president, Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Less than four months under Megawati’s leadership, Papuan pro-independence figure Theys Eluay was killed by Kopassus and the Bloody Wamena incident happened where the TNI forcibly evicted residents in 25 villages in April 2003. In the same year, after protests of the merger of Central Papua and East Papua, Papua was divided into two provinces: Papua and West Papua.
The next president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, chose a peaceful approach. However, military aggressions are still happening in Papua during his term. In October 2011, TNI and Polri officers attacked the Papuan People’s Congress III in Abepura and a shooting took place in Timika due to community protests against PT Freeport.
Meanwhile, the approach to Papua during Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s leadership prioritized infrastructure development and human resources to address Papua’s conflicts and socioeconomic gaps. Some of the programs include one price fuel and the Palapa Ring which expands internet access for Papuans.
Up to this day, the separatist issue is still closely related to the Papua problem. However, the government is still working on programs that can embrace the people of Papua to maintain the integrity of the Republic of Indonesia.