September 7th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: It was right for Australia to be in Vietnam

EDITORIAL: The family: an endangered species

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Self-destructing Democrats: the real winners

COMMENT: Trial by media: the attacks on Archbishop Pell

MIDDLE EAST: Why Bush is unlikely to attack Iraq

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Russian roulette / Thick skins and strong stomachs

FAMILY: Child predators: the untold story

STEM CELL DEBATE: MPs smell a rat over Trounson's stem cell claim

Telstra sale (letter)

An honourable man (letter)

ENVIRONMENT: How now, brown cloud?

POLITICS: Principles and pragmatism: the Democrats' demise

ASIA: Singapore: hard work the key to success

West Papua 40 years on

BOOKS: Cutting Edge Bioethics, edited by John Kilner

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West Papua 40 years on

by Greg Poulgrain

News Weekly, September 7, 2002
West Papua, the lost neighbour of Australia, only 100km from our northern border, last month commemorated the Indonesian takeover of the territory on 15 August, 40 years ago. As a "military operations area" during the intervening period, news from Irian Jaya, now officially Papua, was often smothered. Only top level assassinations of Papuans were reported but for the Papuan people themselves it is a case of internal bleeding.

Whoever gains or retains control of West Papua will benefit greatly from the wealth of natural resources in the territory.

This prize obviously marred the intermediary role in the 1960s of the United Nations. It should have provided a multi-national force to separate Indonesian and Dutch forces, which included a Papuan battalion of 3000 troops.

Muslim troops

However, an under-the-table agreement (without UN documentation) between the US administrator, Ellsworth Bunker and Pakistani Foreign Minister, Ali Bogra, meant the entire UN force consisted of Pakistani Muslim troops who sided immediately with Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

Papuans were being killed even before the UN force departed in mid-1963. Objections in the Australian parliament were stifled.

The New York Agreement provided for a Papuan vote in 1969 to decide whether or not they wanted to remain under Indonesian rule but the outcome was already decided.

The 1969 "act of free choice" was a farce, even when the Agreement was signed in 1962, and this has been acknowledged by the most powerful American lobby group instrumental in the Indonesian takeover - the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The CFR was a distinguished group set up by Rockefeller oil interests (Standard Oil) before the Second World War. More than any other group - even the CIA - they influenced the decision of President Kennedy in 1962 to hand over Netherlands New Guinea to President Sukarno.

It is no coincidence that the CFR decided only three months ago to form a special committee once again to focus on West Papua because of the high profile of Islam since September 11, 2001.

The most prominent Indonesian figure in West Papua is not President Megawati but the leading Muslim politician, Amien Rais, aged 58, whose goal is to win the presidency in 2004. With a background as a professor at the University of Chicago and head of Muhammadiyah, the Indonesian Muslim social group with 30 million followers, Amien Rais was an outspoken critic of President Suharto when he fell from power in 1998.

The political party Rais formed, the National Mandate Party (PAN), gained only 7% of votes in the last general election but his role as king-maker is his strength.

He organised the rise and fall of President Abdurrahman Wahid but has since promised to stick to his role as Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly until the 2004 election.

Why is PAN focusing on West Papua? Rais will need the support of the Indonesian army to win the presidency, just as Megawati did.

Although once a stern critic of the army, Rais now sees West Papua as the key to winning support from the army because the territory generates a large amount of personal revenue for the army. Jakarta funds only 25% of the army's running costs and the remainder, much of it from illegal logging to China and smuggling of flora and fauna, comes from West Papua.

PAN, which is not restricted to adherents of Islam, is currently organising a number of Papuan representatives to provide services for the Papuan people.


PAN is attempting to repair the damage done by 40 years of genocidal military rule.

For American observers, such as the ten military attaches who accompanied Jakarta-based US Ambassador 'Skip' Boyce when he visited West Papua in March this year, it may be difficult to distinguish between the influence of PAN and more militant forms of Islam. Of these the most notable is the army-sponsored Laskar Jihad group which is acquiring a considerable military force in West Papua.

The Papuan population of 1.8 million are Christian; so too are half of the 1.2 million non-Papuans.

The current trend, however, partly the outcome of dire economic conditions in Java and partly the doing of an army-sponsored strategy to create instability in the future, is to promote transmigrants from Java.

Ships bring up to 7000 Javanese to West Papua every week and each disembarkation brings another contingent of Laskar Jihad.

The army is training these as a militia of the future, possibly leading to a religious conflict, similar to that in Ambon.

  • Greg Poulgrain

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