Indonesia: Violence and Political Impasse in Papua

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The political situation in Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua or Papua), Indonesia_s easternmost province, is fundamentally unsettled. Papua is remote from Jakarta and home to only two million of the country's more than 200 million inhabitants, but what happens in the resource-rich province is likely to have great importance for Indonesia. Like Aceh, Papua is home to an armed insurgency against the Indonesian government. Although far less violent than Aceh at present, the province is seen in Jakarta as a front line in national efforts to defend Indonesia's territorial integrity against newly energized separatist movements and growing communal conflict. On the surface, Indonesian security forces appear to be in control, having forcibly subdued the broad independence movement that emerged into public view in the province after the fall of Soeharto in May 1998; below the surface, however, Papuan sentiment remains overwhelmingly opposed to rule from Jakarta. Tensions are high and recent months have seen an escalation in violence, including at times lethal security force operations against independence supporters as well as several ugly attacks on migrants by Papuan militants, a disturbing development that suggests more trouble ahead.

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