Indonesia: Human Rights and Pro-Independence Actions in Irian Jaya

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In the aftermath of President Soeharto's resignation in May 1998, political tension in Irian Jaya, Indonesia's easternmost province, has increased. The province, called West Papua by supporters of independence, occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea. Unlike the rest of Indonesia which gained independence in 1949, Irian Jaya was under Dutch control until 1963 and only became part of Indonesia after a fraudulent, U.N.-supervised "Act of Free Choice" in 1969. Over the last three decades, support for independence, fueled by resentment of Indonesian rule, loss of ancestral land to development projects, and the influx of migrants from elsewhere in the country, has taken the form of both an armed guerrilla movement, the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM), and generally non-violent attempts to raise the West Papuan flag. Guerrilla activity has led in most cases to military operations in which civilians have suffered a wide range of abuses; flag-raisings and other demonstrations have led to the arrests of those involved, often on charges of subversion or rebellion.

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