Places in World Most Likely to Secede West New Guinea

About West New Guinea a place in the world likely to secede from Indonesia, size, population, and history of conflict.



Size: 162,965 sq. mi. (422,080 sq. km.).

Population: 975,000.

The Indonesian Province of Irian Jaya (Greater Irian) shares the bird-shaped island of New Guinea with the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. The province is covered with dense tropical forest, towering volcanic mountain ranges, and vast swamps. The Papuan people who inhabit the area are Melanesian in origin.

Colonized by the Dutch beginning in the 17th century, Irian Jaya was the only part of the Netherlands East Indies which did not win independence as Indonesia in 1949. Though Indonesia's claim to Dutch New Guinea was backed by anticolonialist groups and nations around the world, many Papuans did not want to join Indonesia. In 1962, Indonesia's Sukarno regime launched a diplomatic and military confrontation to win control of the area. Pressured by the U.S. and the U.N., the Dutch turned over administration to the Indonesians in 1963, on the condition that Indonesia organize a referendum. Following the suppression of independence forces, Indonesia staged a series of open consultative councils in 1969, calling them "The Act of Free Choice."

In 1971 opponents of Indonesian rule established a provisional revolutionary government, reportedly including Papuans who had cooperated with Sukarno but opposed Indonesia's reactionary Suharto regime. The independence movement claims to control about 48,260 sq. mi. (125,000 sq. km.) of territory, containing more than one fifth of the population, with a poorly armed army of 10,000. Though there is little direct news from Irian Jaya, reports of heavy fighting against Indonesian troops periodically arrive with refugees in Papua New Guinea.

Because Papuan life is based on subsistence production, the Papuans can operate autonomously in their liberated zones. Should other conflicts weaken the Suharto government, they could eventually gain control over their entire territory. At that point they could create an independent state, combine with Papua New Guinea, or remain federated with a more progressive Indonesian central government.

Indonesia values Irian Jaya for its valuable raw materials, including oil, nickel, and copper. Freeport Minerals' Ertsberg copper mine, on the southwestern coast, earned half its capitalization back in less than two years of operation, but provided nothing to the people of the area.

Roman Catholic missionaries have long had a positive relationship with the residents of the southern part of the province, but fundamentalist Protestant missionaries in the north have challenged native life-styles so drastically that many have been driven away, and in at least one case, the native assistants were eaten.

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