Indonesia - West Papua: Inside or Outside?

‘Last in, first out’ seems to be the theme in Indonesia’s fragmentation. East Timor – taken over by Indonesia in 1975 – has left its control and will shortly become the UN’s 190th member-state. West Papua, absorbed by Indonesia in 1969, may be next. It does not have the same level of graphic brutality in Kalimantan (Borneo), the Malukus and Aceh and is not receiving the same extensive media coverage. But some of its indigenous peoples have resisted Indonesia’s control from the outset. There are signs that history may now be on their side.

The World Today Updated 26 October 2020 Published 1 April 2001 4 minute READ

Keith Suter

Director of Studies, International Law Association (Australian Branch)

West Papua is the easternmost part of Indonesia and its largest province, with a population of about 2.25 million. Its most important mine contains one of the world’s largest proven gold deposits valued at $40 billion. The mining company – an Indonesian subsidiary of the US’s Freeport McMoRan – is one of the country’s largest taxpayers. Logging is also very important, with the forested area second in size only to the Amazon Basin. The Bismarck Sea off Papua New Guinea’s coast has enough oil and natural gas to power the island for hundreds of years.

Indigenous peoples have retained many of their earlier ways of living. They are scattered throughout the whole territory in small clans, kept apart by terrain, language and customs. They live mainly by subsistence farming, consuming edible roots and pigs.

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