The Guardian June 7, 2000


Papuan People's Congress declares for independence

The first ever Papuan People's Congress met in the West Papuan city of 
Jayapura last week. It was attended by 2,700 representatives of the 
indigenous people. For more than thirty years the West Papuan people have 
been fighting for the right to establish an independent state of West 
Papua.

West Papua was formerly a Dutch colonial possession while East Papua (what 
is now known as Papua New Guinea) was a British colony.

After the Dutch were thrown out of Indonesia they held on to West Papua for 
a time but the region was eventually incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 
when the UN conducted a plebiscite.

A steadily growing independence movement has harassed the Indonesian 
government and there have been demonstrations against the huge mining 
operation at Freetown which has made enormous wealth for its American 
owners but has left most of the West Papuan people in backwardness and 
poverty.

A national consciousness and identity has grown in the struggle against 
both the mining giant and Indonesian occupation which has been led by the 
Free Papua Movement (OPM).

There has been considerable Indonesian migration to West Papua with 
migrants seizing land formerly communally owned by the indigenous people.

The West Papuan People's Congress adopted an independence declaration and 
set up a 31-member Papuan Presidium Council to campaign internationally for 
recognition of an independent West Papua. They also endorsed a constitution 
which calls for a new state, the election of a prime minister and a 
parliament. The Morning Star flag was adopted as the flag of an independent 
West Papua.

There was some division among delegates on the question of whether the 
Congress should declare independence immediately or to seek independence 
through dialogue with Jakarta helped by international mediation. One 
delegate declared that "if we do that [declare independence now], the 
Indonesians will kill us."

The Indonesian government has declared strong opposition to any 
independence for West Papua and says that it will use all means to retain 
the region as part of Indonesia.

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