Narratives of Colonization, Decolonization and Recolonization in Papua – “Indonesia’s secret war,” one writer has called it. From the interior of Asia’s largest remaining rainforest, lightly-armed guerillas fight back against the army of the world’s fourth-largest country, with thousands killed in a long-running insurgency. There are no firm numbers on the death toll, but advocates of Papuan independence have pegged it at a 100,000. Papuan nationalist forces are pitted against an Indonesian army that sees itself as the guardian of a near-sacred national unity. Today the conflict has mostly shifted to the political arena, but smaller-scale violence still flares suddenly – a clash between Papuan “tribal” people and Indonesian settlers; an army helicopter reportedly sent plummeting to earth; an independence leader killed by soldiers. The conflict still endures after 40 years. Part of the problem for observers is that there are as many names as there are sides to the conflict. The colonial name was West New Guinea or Netherlands New Guinea. Indonesians demanding the colony be handed over to them called it West Irian. Then for many years it became the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. Nationalists seeking an independent state referred to it as West Papua. In a move to conciliate rising pro-independence sentiment in 2000, the Indonesian government agreed to rename the province as Papua. Just to add confusion, the western third of the province was snipped away with questionable legality to form a new province officially called West Papua to distinguish it from the rest of the island – still called Papua.
Southern Poverty Law Center
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