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Sustained guerrilla war only way to loosen Indon grip on W Papua

OPM freedom fighters
West Papuan Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) freedom fighters (Rohan Radheya


ADELAIDE - Of course, Daniel Kumbon is entirely correct that his forefathers did not invite the division of the island of New Guinea.

Imperialism and colonialism have been recurring features of human societies across at least the last three millennia, where the strong have dominated the weak and exerted their power to achieve their strategic aims.

History is, in many respects at least, just a series of such events.

One of the great misunderstandings of our era is that imperialism is an exclusively European activity.

This is an entirely wrong idea, carefully nurtured by those whose political and other interests lay in perpetuating the mythology that colonialism is a recent phenomenon.

I find it profoundly ironic that Indonesia, which fought a very ugly war to throw off the yoke of Dutch imperialism, should have become such a power itself.

Its action during the confrontation with Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960s and its seizure of Timor Leste in 1975 are clear cut examples of imperialism in action.

West Papua is another such case: there is no logical ethnic or linguistic relationship between the Javanese who dominate the Indonesian federation and the peoples of the island of New Guinea.

Indonesia took possession because the old imperial powers lacked both the will and capacity to prevent it doing so.

The USA is especially culpable because it exerted its power to actually prevent the Dutch (supported by both Britain and Australia) from conducting a fair and free ballot about future independence.

Indonesia is unlikely to release its grip over resource rich West Papua. It will fight to preserve its power by whatever means necessary.

No western power will directly intervene: whatever its faults, Indonesia is a functioning democracy which has successfully resisted Islamic extremism.

It is a valued ally of the western powers and this alone overrides other strategic or even moral considerations. The Indonesians know this perfectly well.

This leaves the West Papuans with a clear choice: acquiesce to Indonesian dominance or resist it by all means they can, including violence.

If the latter course is to prevail, they will need better leadership, a coherent political and military strategy, access to military hardware and greater numbers of committed fighters.

A sustained guerrilla war is the only way to loosen the grip of the Indonesians.

VI Lenin, Mao Zedong, Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro and many others understood this well and followed this course during the revolutionary era that, arguably at least, commenced with the American War of Independence in 1775.

Whether there is the will and capacity within West Papua to endure the terrible trial of a war of liberation is a matter of conjecture.


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Peter Sandery

Whilst I agree with most of what you say here Chris, I must say that I am not surprised, nor do I find it ironic that Indonesia is showing the same signs of imperialist tendencies that the Javanese and others showed in earlier, pre European times To me they are merely demonstrating a long standing character trait.

Martin Auld

'Daniel Kumbon is entirely correct that his forefathers did not invite the division of the island of New Guinea.'

Daniel is not entirely correct though.

Jared Diamond wrote that had Europeans not arrived, Papua would have been enfolded into the Austronesian or Malay world. I can't remember if Diamond wrote 'Austronesian' or 'Malay,' and I have no copy of his book with me to check. It's an important distinction, so I apologise for not being more accurate.

Nevertheless, the Malay world was indeed knocking on doors, and doors were sometimes opened and the incomers invited. The Sultanates of North Maluku had been trading, settling and spreading Da'wah for some centuries before the Dutch arrived, mostly in the Birdshead and focused around Raja Empat Fakfak and Kaimana. Papuans converted. The settlements became tributaries of the Sultanates, acknowledged sovereignty and sent warriors to fight with the Sultanates. Readers here probably know the history of Nuku, whose Papuan warriors fought the Dutch on behalf of the Brits. The Dutch based their claim to West Papua on the sovereignty of the N.Maluku Sultanates. When they sent troops to Merauke at the request of British Papua, they first had to seek permission from the Sultanates and agree to pay an amount in Florins annually. We all know that vampires can knock on your door but can only enter our home if we invite them inside...

Later, Serui became a fortress of Indonesian support, the only place where Sukarno's infiltrants were welcomed with open arms.

'Australia will do or say nothing because they are prisoner to the so called Lombok Treaty'

Daniel, the Lombok Treaty commits us to respecting Indonesia's territorial integrity. It's heavily caveated with declarations of both parties' respect for international law. The latter is where change will first have to take place.

Chris, an old Kiap [GB] a staunch man of the Left, once explained to us why he supported independence for PNG. He'd been there for 30 years and had grown into middle age along with his generational PNG peers. They'd developed a mutual respect that made it easier to solve problems. Similar respect however was not forthcoming from the younger generation and he predicted trouble, perhaps even revolts. Secondly, he felt Australia had built the easy infrastructure, bridges roads etc and Canberra was unwilling to fund the big projects needed to take development a step further. So, time to go. What's your opinion?

Applying GB's experience to W.Papua isn't an easy fit, but does give me an insight. Jakarta is pouring obscene amounts of money into W.Papua. Rich Papuans dripping gold bling travel on the ferries in first class and party hard in the boat's karaoke bar, then off to shopping sprees in Jakarta and Bali. Exactly how long Jakarta is willing to keep this up is unknown, but we may imagine it will end sometime. Born in Papua, the kids and grandkids of the transmigrants and free settlers are developing mutual respect with their Papuan peers. Perhaps one day they'll be confident enough to say to Jakarta 'Thanks but we can take it from here.' But it won't happen while a racist OPM massacres civilians of Indonesian ethnicities to provoke a disproportionate response. Ustadz Fahmi Al Anjatani has urged Banser, a youth group affiliated with the moderate and secular NU [from which Gus Dur came]to volunteer to track down and capture the Nduga killers. You can follow the pro contra discourse on his Facebook. This places grassroots pressure on Widodo and TNI to demonstrate they're able and willing to protect the community. The Indonesian public wasn't asked to agree to a referendum in Timor. Now that presidents are elected democratically that's unlikely to be repeated. This is the real story to emerge from the Nduga aftermath. As usual, the Australian media has missed it. What's your opinion?

'they have no remote state actor like the USSR or USA that will fund and support them'

Maybe not but they do however have a US propaganda outfit that employs a Papuan journalist aligned to the independence movement. Benar News is a sister site of Radio Free Asia, an outlet for the US State Department and an inside look at State's thinking on our regional issues if you have any spare time to have a squiz.

Chris Overland

Thanks Daniel.

I am afraid that, as things now stand, the OPM looks to be fighting a losing battle.

And yet history is littered with strange twists and turns of fate, where the strong become weak and the weak become strong.

So, things may yet work out in very unexpected ways.

Daniel Kumbon

May I add Chris that Australia will do or say nothing because they are prisoner to the so called Lombok Treaty.

The Australian government is incapacitated to take any action even when the arms they sell to Indonesia is used by the military to perpetrate genocide and commit human rights abuses on West Papuans.

Ordinary Australian citizens will continue to flock to Bali for summer holidays even after suffering terrorist attacks at major holiday resorts.

And when they know they will serve long prison terms or face the firing squad for drug offences.

West Papuans appear doomed to fight a lonely battle.

Chris Overland

Thanks for your comments Martin.

I am not suggesting that a civil war is in Australia's interests, nor advocating this. I am merely pointing out that Indonesia is, in practice, the new colonial power in West Papua and Can only be removed by resort to the same strategy pursued by so-called liberation movements in the mid to late 20th century.

You seem to be implicitly supporting West Papua's absorbtion into Indonesia as a fait accompli although I may be misunderstanding you.

The inference seems to be that Indonesian colonialism is ok because Indonesia is doing good things to develop the province and usher it into the 21st century.

No doubt the British thought that they were doing the same in India but the Indians did not think so.

For what it is worth, my guess is that the OPM cannot prevail. Importantly, as you point out, they lack broad social licence, plus they have no remote state actor like the USSR or USA that will fund and support them.

So West Papua's fate seems sealed. That is the realpolitik of the situation.

martin auld

'A sustained guerrilla war is the only way to loosen the grip of the Indonesians'

Chris, explain to me why it's in Australian interests to break up the nation state of Indonesia with a civil war in Papua? Leave aside for a moment that we have commitments to the Lombok Treaty.

The guerrilla war you write of, and the ethnic civil war it implies, would be impossible to sustain across much of Papua, eg in the Birdshead province where the OPM exists on paper but doesn't have a social license to operate. The people want economic development, jobs and growth, not more killing, and the pro Indonesian elites that run the place currently have a sussessful partnership with Jakarta that delivers. Why would Jakarta allow the IOM to conduct Community Policing training, and the transparency that it implies, if Jakarta wasn't confident of majority support there? Would Qld cops invite the IOM to conduct similar training on Palm Island? Same goes for the burgeoning tourism industry in Raja Ampat. Isn't this an example of Indonesia opening up Papua where it's safe to do so and being a good International citizen? And of course, taking care of the environment and the Coral Triangle burnishes their international reputation. Isn't this an example of win-win? Credit where it's due?

Just today there was a media notice of the sad passing of Alex Kerr, a WW2 airman and hero who later served in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, and became Vice Chancellor of a WA campus. He was also the owner and founder of a pearl farm in W.Papua, a very successful business in Raja Ampat. His partner was Admiral Poernomo, once chief of the Indonesian Navy. Pak 'Nomo was also a Commander of one of the Soviet subs that pushed the Dutch out of Papua. Here he is in action -

So why on earth would anyone wish a civil war upon the people of the Birdshead, when development, with all it's inevitable ethically dubious compromises, is working and living standards are rising?

Atlas Pacific Pearls

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