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Papuan self-determination - Historical roots VI

The West Papua story continues. Previous contents so far:

Part I Economically "worthless"?
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'
Part III Strategic Considerations
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement
Part V The Round Table Conference

by Arie Brand

1950 -The first year test

So the Dutch government had managed to keep Papua for the time being separate from the then United States of Indonesia. The government needed, as said, a two third majority for the constitutional change required and just got it (71 to 29 in the Lower House and 34 to 15 in the Upper House). Though it was mainly the conservative liberals of the VVD and the protestant politicians of the Christian Historical Union (CHU) who had demanded the exclusion of New Guinea from the transfer of sovereignty as the ‘price’ for their vote, the then biggest political party, the catholic KVP, had also declared in parliament ‘that there was no reason to change the status (of West Papua) until the population could itself express (its wishes) regarding its political status”(Duynstee, 1961, p185 – my translation AB.)

The RTC-Agreement stipulated that the status of the 'Residentie’ New Guinea (ie Papua) would be decided within a year by consultations between Indonesia and Holland. A lot happened in that year. The federal structure was demolished by Jakarta. In reaction to that people from the Moluccas in East Indonesia proclaimed the Republik Maluku Selatan (Republic of the South Moluccas). After Sukarno had officially proclaimed the unitary state on the 17th of August 1950 the forces of the central government invaded Ambon on 28th September. After five weeks of fighting the capital Ambon fell into their hands. The government of the RMS took refuge in the neighbouring island of Ceram where the struggle was continued for more than a decade (there is still a RMS government in exile in the Netherlands). The fighting in Ambon, between troops of the Indonesian Republic and those of the self styled Republic of the South Moluccas, made a deep impression in Holland. It is again Duynstee who has testified to this:

Few Indonesian actions have made such a deep impression in Holland as the subjection of Ambon. Specifically as a consequence of this tragedy the matter of the right of self-determination in Indonesia was discussed year after year in parliament, even though the Government refused … to take any steps with the Indonesian government in this matter. This problem has constituted the worst possible background for a reasonable treatment of the difficulties concerning New Guinea (Duynstee, 1961, p11 – my translation AB.).

The speedy demolition of the federation by the Sukarno-government and the violence against Ambon also convinced the longest serving Labour Prime Minister of the time, Willem Drees, who originally was lukewarm on the matter of Papua, that no business could be transacted with this Indonesian government. He wrote afterwards:

When the various cabinets were constituted I always refused to accede to the demand of the denominational parties that New Guinea had to remain under Dutch authority. I was of the opinion that the Netherlands should remain prepared to negotiate with Indonesia on New Guinea. For me any solution could be discussed, in which New Guinea would, somehow or other, get an autonomous status. That could also have been an autonomous status within the United States of Indonesia. But unfortunately Sukarno quickly blocked that middle course. Indonesian policy in relation to New Guinea was based on the formal view that all the erstwhile territory of the Netherlands East Indies had to now form Indonesia as a whole … (quoted in Gase, op cit chapter 2 p2 - my translation, AB.).

Drees, the only Dutch politician popularly called 'father' (a honorific he showed himself worthy of by becoming 102 years old) had great influence. He was moderation personified and couldn't have been more different from the flamboyant Sukarno, a man he probably regarded with utter distaste.

Sukarno had indeed left little room for compromise. In his speech on Independence Day, on 17th August 1950, he said:

We still observe the provision in the RTC agreements that the question of West Irian shall be settled peaceably within this year. After this year, neither of the parties will be bound by the RTC provision... If a settlement by negotiation cannot be arrived at within this year, major conflict will arise on the issue of who will be in power in that island from then onward. For, once again I declare: We will not stop fighting, we will continue fighting, we will keep on fighting whatever may come, until West Irian has been returned to our fold (quoted in Gase, op cit, chapter 2 p2).

The negotiations that year that the RTC-agreements called for remained utterly futile. The proposal of Indonesia was that sovereignty would be immediately transferred to that country with a vague promise of some kind of autonomous status for Papua in the future. The counter proposal of the Dutch was to transfer sovereignty to the then still existing Union between Indonesia and the Netherlands, leaving the de facto administration in Dutch hands, and to continue negotiations under the aegis of, for example, the United Nations.

This Indonesia refused to accept.

To be continued

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