08 December 2020
- Declaration of new Papuan government in exile will have limited impact given divisions within independence movement
- Jakarta will maintain staunch anti-separatist stance, ensuring no likelihood of major concessions to independence campaigners
- Declaration unlikely to provoke protests or increased militancy, but security crackdown will raise potential for degree of retaliatory violence
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) said on 1 December that its UK-based leader Benny Wenda would become the president of a “government-in-waiting” and promulgated a new constitution for an independent West Papua. Central government ministers and MPs firmly rejected the declaration, saying Papua and West Papua provinces are an intrinsic part of the Indonesian republic. Other Papuan independence groups also opposed the ULMWP’s announcement, with local media reporting on 4 December that the Free Papua Movement’s (OPM) military wing, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), and its urban civil arm the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), had similarly rejected it.
After the collapse of the Dutch colonial administration, sovereignty over the present provinces of Papua and West Papua passed to the UN before being transferred to Indonesia following a contentious 1969 referendum. In response, the OPM first declared an independent Republic of West Papua in 1971, covering both current provinces. Central authorities in Jakarta have however rejected all calls for separatism. This has prompted intermittent protests calling for independence, as well as sporadic militant attacks, which have been further fuelled by grievances including human rights abuses by security forces against indigenous groups, and claims that locals do not benefit from economic development projects in the resource-rich…