Papua's Got a Brand New Bag

Papua's Got a Brand New Bag

Papua's Got a Brand New Bag

What the foreign papers are saying.
June 5 2000 11:30 PM

Papua's Got a Brand New Bag

The Jakarta Post reported Monday that in defiance of warnings from Jakarta, "the Papuan Congress ended on Sunday with a declaration that West Papua, or Irian Jaya as the territory is still officially called, is no longer a part of the Republic of Indonesia." Cognizant that a straightforward declaration of independence would upset the government, the congress finessed the issue by stating that the territory has been a sovereign nation since Dec. 1, 1961, when the Netherlands granted its independence. (Indonesia won the war with the Netherlands in 1963 and annexed Irian Jaya. In 1969, the United Nations recognized Indonesian rule over the region following a plebiscite; the Papuans reject this vote, claiming that it was made under duress.)

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The congress named the state Papua, adopted "My Land Papua" as the national anthem, and declared the Mambruk bird the state symbol. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid threatened the separatists that the government would take "harsh action" if they took "concrete measures to realize their independence aspiration." However, according to the Jakarta Post, "Politicians were unperturbed by the news … describing it as a mere political maneuver to gain greater government consideration over the province's fate." An editorial in the paper dismissed this as a political miscalculation: "For the first time, a wider cross section of the West Papuan people, including the urban intelligentsia, has presented a united front in calling for secession from Indonesia. … How long is Jakarta going to stay aloof and maintain this denial mode, which clearly will not solve anything at all?" The editorial attacked the current requirement that all Indonesian political parties be based in Jakarta and support national unity. Given these restrictions, separatist ambitions can never be taken up by political parties, forcing them to "look for outlets outside the system" and thus encouraging civil unrest. It concluded, "If the Abdurrahman administration is consistent with its own democratic principles, then it should go the full distance and provide legitimate channels for these regional aspirations within the system. Let them form their regional parties, and let them fight whatever cause they pick—be it independence, autonomy, special status or whatever—at the ballots against the national parties. Even if they eventually prevail, at least they will leave the republic in an honorable and peaceful manner."

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

An investigative piece in the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that a "Jakarta-based organisation with criminal connections and links to Indonesia's military and Golkar, the former ruling party, is secretly funding part of a burgeoning independence movement" in Papua. It said Indonesian forces are also "training and funding an East Timor-style anti-independence militia" that has already attacked villagers in the region. The paper said, "Observers fear that some Indonesian authorities want to encourage clashes between the two militias that would see the independence side crushed and its leaders either killed or jailed."

In Fiji, where businessman George Speight seized the prime minister and other hostages May 19, a multiracial coalition on the western half of the capital island is talking about secession from the eastern side. The Australian described the "excellent" race relations between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians in the West, and said that it "produces three-quarters of the nation's sugar, all the gold, most of the timber and houses the bulk of the tourism industry, and large chunks of the manufacturing and garment industries."

In Nigeria, the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. increased the price of fuel by 50 percent (gas prices rose from 19 cents per gallon to 29 cents per gallon, according to Saturday's Financial Times). While this will bring Nigeria, the most populous and oil-rich nation in Africa, closer to International Monetary Fund targets, it has also brought public anger and threats of strike action. The Post Express of Lagos reported, "From the legislature to the organized labour, the human rights groups and general consumers of the products, the condemnations of the government action were unreserved." Meanwhile, the leaders of the national assembly, according to the FT, accuse President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose administration is one year old, of "refusing to adapt to the new civilian setting in Nigeria and using the strongarm tactics familiar to him from his days as military ruler in the 1970s," and Senate President Chuba Okadigbo was accused of stealing the ceremonial mace, without which the Senate cannot convene, in order to avoid impeachment. The Senate adjourned for a six-week recess May 31, but the next day, according to the Post Express, a group of senators "allegedly working in concert with the Presidency to remove Okadigbo from office" tried to "reconvene the upper house for the purpose of carrying out the impeachment of the Senate President." Without the mace, however, they were unable to proceed. On Friday, armed policemen invaded Okadigbo's official residence in search of the mace, though they didn't find it. Okadigbo attacked President Obasanjo for the fuel hike, which he said "would make nonsense of the newly introduced minimum wage" and for what he described as Obasanjo's attempt "to change, by all means, the current leadership of the National Assembly."

South African newspapers assessed President Thabo Mbeki on the occasion of his first anniversary in office. The Independent, referring to his participation in the meeting of center-left politicians in Berlin Saturday, described him as being "at the top table of the world's industrial leadership." This echoed the Mail & Guardian's assessment of "a glittering triumph in the international field but a somewhat more lackluster display at home." It said, "He excels in, and takes obvious pleasure in, international issues and in expressing his vision of renaissance in Africa. But, when it comes to domestic issues of more immediate concern, he appears derelict." The Sunday Independent agreed, declaring that Mbeki had failed to bring South Africa out of "economic despair," but it noted his "almost quixotic zeal … to broker nothing less than a new global economic order" that stresses the needs of developing countries. The Star praised the president's work to end the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and his diplomatic approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe, where he has obtained funds from Saudi Arabia and Norway for land reform. Official opposition leader Tony Leon attacked this strategy in the Sunday Argus, however, claiming "His 'quiet diplomacy' policy in Zimbabwe has allowed President Robert Mugabe's outrageous abuses of power to go virtually unchallenged by South Africa, thereby raising questions about Mr Mbeki's own commitment to democracy."

The day after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori called a general election (for June 25), largely to avoid a no-confidence debate moved by the opposition because of his May 15 statement that Japan is "God's country, centered on the emperor," he made another gaffe. In a speech Saturday night, he used the term kokutai, which, according to the Japan Times, "was a term commonly used to refer to what was seen as the Japanese polity, the most important elements of which were rule by an unbroken Imperial line, and the concept of the state as a family in which the relationship between the Emperor and his subjects was likened to one between a father and his children." An opposition party leader said that Mori's remarks "may be interpreted as denying the Japanese Constitution or the modern universal principle that sovereignty resides with the people. I think he is not fit to be prime minister." The next day Mori admitted the remark was "improper" and said, "Last night in Nara, I spoke too long ... made a slip of the tongue and have been scolded again."