Politics and History

In order to understand the current political situation it is necessary to examine recent history. What is now known as Indonesia was the key Dutch colony until the end of the Second World War. The struggle to achieve independence was hard fought and the Dutch were most reluctant to let go of their Asian jewel. After the Indonesians, led by President Sukarno, declared independence in 1945, the Dutch did not formally cede sovereignty until the end of 1949 and then only after considerable world pressure. All of the old Dutch East Indies became the Republic of Indonesia with the EXCEPTION of Dutch New Guinea or Irian Jaya (we will refer to this as West Papua from now on). Through a manner of rather devious tactics the Dutch managed to retain some sort of control of West Papua until the early 1960s.

The fiercely proud, nationalist Indonesians believed very strongly that West Papua was part of their sovereign territory and President Sukarno first tried a diplomatic solution to this problem by taking the case to the United Nations. This failed and Sukarno withdrew Indonesia from the UN in protest and started a military campaign to take West Papua by force, led by General (later President) Suharto. Finally in 1962, against a background of relinquished US and European support and an escalating military bill, the Dutch bit the bullet and West Papua was passed into UN control with the aim of an orderly hand-over to Indonesia. The transition was not easy and the Indonesian government clearly made many mistakes in their attempted "Indonesianisation" of West Papua. Some conflicts with the local inhabitants continued but by the early 1990s the process seemed to be proceeding more smoothly even if there were grievances that too little of the vast natural mineral wealth of West Papua was finding its way back to locals.

After the Suharto "New Order" regime was overthrown in 1997, the incipient West Papuan independence movement was re-born. It is that movement that has gained some momentum (although nothing like as much as in Aceh for example).

It is understandable if such unrest might put off potential travellers to West Papua. The purpose of this explanation is to allay those fears. We have excellent local contacts in each of the main areas of West Papua and we are always very well informed of local conditions and activities. If there is any obvious danger, then a trip will not be undertaken. We are immensely respected by Papuan tribal chiefs and ordinary folk, and this alone is almost enough to guarantee the safety of anybody travelling with us. It should also be understood that the peoples of Wamena are the most welcoming and warm-hearted individuals - they love having visitors. Their grievances are with the Indonesian central government and most certainly not with western visitors.

In summary, through our unparalleled contacts and relationships in West Papua, please be assured that we will never take undue risks with any client's safety.

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