May 16, 2022 Last Updated 8:50 AM, May 6, 2022

West Papua in 1999

Published: Jul 30, 2007

An urban movement pushes for a peaceful solution

Nina FitzSimons

In the wake of a military crackdown in Biak in July 1998, Christian churches, student and women's groups, and non-government organisations (NGOs) formed a non-party political coalition to pursue a peaceful solution to West Papuan concerns. The Forum for Reconciliation of Irian Jaya Society (Foreri) sought to enter into dialogue with the government.

On the 26th February 1999, after four months of planning and five drafts of the terms of reference, then-President Habibie and cabinet ministers met in Jakarta with a one hundred member delegation of Papuan representatives to launch the 'national dialogue'. Foreri played the role of facilitator. The West Papuans unanimously declared their desire for independence. They wanted President Habibie to publicly recognise the loss of Papua's independence through the 1969 Act of Free Choice. Habibie's response indicated that he was not expecting the declaration. Putting aside his prepared speech, he told the delegation to consider their decision carefully.

Since that meeting there has been no progress. On April 17th 1999 Irian Jaya's chief of police, Hotman Siagian, issued a proclamation banning all discussion and dissemination of information resulting from the national dialogue. This effectively prevents all Papuans from discussing independence or greater autonomy from Indonesia. The workshops and seminars which were to follow the Jakarta meeting will not be taking place.

NGOs in Jayapura say they know the government's answer to the delegation's aspirations. It is the 27th July bill to divide Irian Jaya into three separate provinces. Governors for the new provinces of West Irian, Central Irian and East Irian were sworn in on 12 October 1999. The Protestant church GKI says the division indicates the government's refusal to open any form of conflict resolution. West Papuans fear the administrative expansion will bring in more Javanese bureaucrats. Transmigration (often by Muslims) already means the (largely Christian) Papuan population now only makes up half the territory's population.

Since the February 26th meeting, delegates and facilitators of the national dialogue have become targets of intimidation. Travel restrictions were placed on the main leaders of the national dialogue delegation in August, preventing them from leaving Jayapura. On a wider scale, military command posts are continually being set up to ensure no further 'interference' by delegation parties. Furthermore the government has sought to eliminate the role of Foreri by suspending all communications with the Foreri office. The government discredits the national dialogue as the work of radicals. Some officials have dropped hints that delegate members are part of a group supplying arms to West Papuans opposing the Freeport mine.

In Fak-Fak police raided and vandalised a local traditional house that was being used as a meeting place and information centre on independence issues by local tribal leaders. While no one was injured, police removed all sacred and indigenous artifacts and destroyed them.

The independent human rights organisation in Jayapura, ELS-HAM, has been collecting data on recent killings and intends to publish the results. In August it distributed a report listing human rights abuses in the Central Highlands area as a direct result of the foreign hostage case of early 1996. The abuses implicated the International Committee of the Red Cross and British elite troops SAS. The fact that it took three years to gather enough concrete evidence highlights the difficulties faced by NGOs investigating human rights abuse. As it is, calls by ELS-HAM for the government to protect witnesses relating to this case have fallen on deaf ears.

Nina FitzSimons ( is an Australian volunteer in Solo, Central Java. She visited Irian Jaya in June 1999 as an electoral monitor under an ACFOA programme.

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

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