Papua Merdeka!

Papua Merdeka – a short history

In 1985 I met a man from the small island of Biak off the north coast of West Papua. Mathew Mayer had been conscripted into the Indonesian Army and taught how to shoot a gun and learned some tradesmen skills in repairing helicopter gearboxes. When he returned home Mathew joined Organasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) to fight against Indonesian occupation of his country.

In 1961 the West Papuan’s had declared independence from colonialist Dutch when they raised the Morning Star flag over their country. The Dutch government recognised this act of self-determination but the United Nations placed West Papua under a trusteeship of the Indonesians who themselves, some years before in 1947, had won their own independence struggle from the Dutch.

Similar independence struggles were going on in the region. Independence from German controlled northern New Guinea was declared after the second world war. The British gave up the lower part of New Guinea and Australia became trustee until independence was declared in 1972 with Michael Somare becoming the first Prime Minister of New Guinea. There was an ongoing Kanak struggle for self-determination in New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands resulting in bloodshed in 1988 on the small island of Ouvea where 19 members of the independence movement, the National Union for Independence-Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front were killed by French marines, paratroopers and gendarmes lobbing grenades into caves where they were hiding. There were allegations of summary executions.

Meanwhile the East Timorese have won independence from Portugal and Indonesia.

Not so in West Papua. In 1969 the Indonesians conducted a fraudulent plebiscite – a so called ‘act of free choice’ when they forced the West Papuans to sign over their country to the Javanese in Jakarta. Fortunately, Australian journalist and author of ‘Over the top with Jim’ was present to report the fraud:

In 1969 Hugh Lunn was Reuters correspondent in Jakarta when Indonesia took over the western half of New Guinea and its 800,000 Papuan inhabitants. Only Hugh and Dutch journalist Otto Kuyk were there to tell the world—by morse code—that the UN ‘Act of Free Choice’ was a rort.

Now the West Papuan struggle is not even on the international agenda of the United Nations. Regional powers, Australia and Indonesia, have muted their struggle preferring to allow transnational companies to exploit minerals in this highly mountainous country. Indonesian military Kopassi has supressed the growing struggle with charges of genocide made by journalists excluded from the country by the Indonesian government. Recent change of Indonesian government to President Jakowi has made no difference.

Now there is a new chapter in the struggle where Melanesian support form Vanuatu and Kanaky. New leaders have emerged, people like Benny Wenda, Ronny Kareni and others have united the struggle and taken a political stance to gain recognition in the United Nations in Geneva. Two swimmers recently swam across Lake Geneva to present a petition to the United Nations to highlight their concerns. Benny Wenda is located in London and is taken up a role not dissimilar to that of Jose Ramos Horta during the East Timorese struggle for independence. Meanwhile those engaged in the armed struggle and killed or locked up in Indonesian prisons.

Back to Mathew Mayer. Like many members of the OPM he fled to PNG where he worked and raised a family. In the early 1980s the PNG government wanted to return him to the Indonesians and almost certain death. A Nationalist minded deputy Prime Minister Okuk s sympathise with the West Papuan and Mathew a one-way ticket to Australia to test the Australian government’s commitment to refugees. There was no doubt that Mathew and his family were refugees but his pleas initially fell on deaf ears. Friends organised support for Mathew and went to visit his family in PNG. In 1985 after three years of campaigning the Minister granted Mathew asylum but not his family who remained in PNG.. Matthew was given residency and a work permit and he sent money home. He worked repairing motor vehnical gearboxes in West End. Mathew was a keen bushwalker and eventually was given help to retire in Sandgate by Catholic workers.

In 2010 I went with some friends to Ballarat to celebrate the Eureka uprising. The yearly event is organised by Joe Toscano.  To my surprise I met a leader of the Free Papua movement Jacob Prai at Ballarat Cemetery who gave a wonderful speech in solidarity with his brothers and sisters in West Papua. This is what Jacob had to say. [Sorry about the wind across the microphone].

The Indonesian government calls the occupation. transmigration. We are familiar with this concept but under different names. The Israelis call the occupation of Palestine building settlements, in Australia it was called Tera Nullius, it occurred in East Timor by the Portugese, in Kanaky by the French and so on.

West Papuan self-determination is a long struggle but it would be great, after 66 years since the Morning Star flag was raised for the first time, to see it raised again permanently in West Papua.

Andy interviews Ronny Kareni (OPM) and David Bridie (Not Drowning Waving) for an update on the struggle.

Ian Curr
1 Dec 2017

Aireleke – Sarong Samaray
Not Drowning, Waving – Blackwater
Black Paradise – Metamani
Telek – West Papua (Merdeka mix)


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