Indonesia flashpoints: Papua

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Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, has been dogged by secessionist violence ever since Dutch colonial rule formally ended in 1962.

Many Papuans saw the Dutch departure as a chance for complete independence. But within a year, forces from Jakarta had annexed the region and claimed it as part of Indonesia.

A low-level guerrilla organisation called the Free Papua Movement has been fighting a secessionist battle ever since.

Despite a heavy Indonesian military presence, attacks and skirmishes have occurred throughout the last four decades, killing thousands of Papuans.

The situation has been exacerbated by tensions within the Papuan community.

Locals - who are mainly Christians or Animists of Melanesian origin - have clashed with Muslims who moved to the region as part of the government's transmigration programme.

No vote

The Dutch colonised Papua in 1828, but unlike the rest of Indonesia, they did not relinquish control of the province until the 1960s.

Instead, on 1 December 1961, they agreed to grant Papuan self-rule.

When the Dutch left, they handed Papua over to the United Nations and then to Jakarta, in a transfer agreement which stipulated that Papuans would be able to decide within six years whether to accept incorporation into Indonesia.

This opportunity came and went - and many Papuans, as well as human rights groups, have questioned why the region has still not been allowed a vote for independence.

From the time Jakarta first annexed the province, there have been sporadic clashes between independence supporters and security forces.

When President Suharto left office in 1998, advocates of Papuan separatism renewed their call for independence.

Abdurrahman Wahid came to power in October 1999 and attempted to defuse the situation by publicly announcing that the government should accept the blame for some of the region's difficulties.

Image caption,
Protesters in Papua are calling for meaningful autonomy

But Papuans still had many grievances against Jakarta. A major complaint was that much of the revenue from the region's extensive mineral and oil resources was going to central government coffers, rather than benefiting local people.

In 2001 Jakarta tried again to appease the Papuans, by granting them greater powers to manage their own affairs.

The region was allowed to keep up to 80% of the profits from its sale of minerals and agricultural produce, and was also allowed to change its name from Irian Jaya to the locally-preferred name of Papua.

But the situation remained volatile and the concerns of local people festered.

In 2005, two prominent activists were jailed for raising the "Morning Star" independence flag. Rights groups have repeatedly accused the Indonesian military of abuses in Papua.

In June 2010 representatives of the Papuan assembly held a ceremony symbolically handing back the special autonomy granted in 2001 to the Indonesian government.

Two months later, a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) urged Jakarta to expand Papuan political autonomy and affirmative action policies, and tackle the influx of migrants from the rest of Indonesia.

"Unless these three issues are tackled head on in face-to-face meetings, the impasse is unlikely to be broken and increased radicalisation is likely," the report said.

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