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The flag of the Free Papua Movement, the Morning Star.

The Free Papua Movement (Indonesian: Organisasi Papua Merdeka, abbreviated OPM) is a separatist organization (classified as a terrorist organisation under Indonesian law) established in 1965 to seek independence for Western New Guinea from Indonesia. The territory is currently administered by Indonesia as the provinces of Papua and West Papua.


Legal Status

OPM is classified as a terrorist organization under Indonesian law. Providing any form of substantial aid to OPM is a ruled an act of treason. Recognition of the movement is a lesser offence treason and it is a crime to display the alleged flag of Independent Papua in public.[1] Since its inception the OPM has attempted diplomatic dialogue, conducted West Papuan flag raising ceremonies, and undertaken militant actions as part of the Papua Conflict.

While the organization, and in turn Papuan independence, is not supported by the significant immigrant Javanese population, it is supported by some Papuans, though not the Biak and Kai majority ethnicities, as they consider themselves to have no cultural or historical ties with Austronesian Indonesians. According to OPM supporters, Indonesian administration of West Papua is a military occupation.


Free Papua Movement graffiti in Sentani, Papua

During World War II Netherlands East Indies (to become Indonesia) fell under Japanese Occupation and subsequently gained its independence during the Indonesian National Revolution from 1945 to 1950. Netherlands New Guinea (Western New Guinea), on the other hand, was only partially occupied by Japanese forces (along the north coast) and was not part of the Dutch-Indonesian agreement on Indonesian independence in December 1949.

Its pre-war colonial relationship with the Netherlands was continued including the development of independent civil services[2] and the election of a national New Guinea Council in January 1961 which was inaugurated in April 1961. White House advisors McGeorge Bundy and Robert Komer from April 1961 lobbied US President John F. Kennedy to negotiate for Indonesia the trade of West New Guinea to Indonesian control[3]; the resulting New York Agreement was drafted by Robert Kennedy and signed by the Netherlands, Indonesia and United Nations in August 1962.

Although the Netherlands had insisted the West New Guinea people be allowed self-determination in accord with the United Nations charter and General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) which was to be called the "Act of Free Choice"; the New York Agreement instead provided a seven year delay and gave the United Nations no authority to supervise the act.[4] The legitimacy of this transfer was not recognized by the Papuan population, the majority of whom have continued civil disobedience by raising the West Papua Morning Star flag each year on the 1 December although this action is illegal under Indonesian law and may result in imprisonment of seven to twenty years if caught and handed over to the police for prosecution.[5]

In October 1968 Mr Nicolaas Jouwe, member of the New Guinea Council and of the National Committee elected by the Council in 1962, lobbied the United Nations claiming 30,000 Indonesian troops and thousands of Indonesian civil servants were repressing the Papuan population.[6] According to US Ambassador Galbraith, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik also believed the Indonesian military was the cause of problems in the territory and the number of troops should be reduced by at least one half. Ambassador Galbraith further described the OPM to "represent an amorphous mass of anti-Indonesia sentiment" with "possibly 85 to 90 percent [of Papuans], are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause or at least intensely dislike Indonesians".[7]

Brigadier General Sarwo Edhie oversaw the design and conduct of the "Act of Free Choice" which took place from 14 July to 2 August 1969. The United Nations representative Ambassador Oritiz Sanz arrived on 22 August 1968 and made repeated requests for to the Brigadier-General for Indonesia to allow a one-man one-vote system (a process known as a referendum or plebiscite) but these requests were refused on the grounds that such activity was not specified nor requested by the 1962 New York Agreement.[8] One thousand and twenty five Papuans were selected from and instructed on the required procedure as specified by the article 1962 New York Agreement. The resulting vote was unanimous for integration, but by many Papuans and representatives of foreign governments, claim the result was rigged by the Indonesian Government.

In response, Oom Nicolas Jouwe and two OPM commanders, Seth Jafeth Roemkorem and Jacob Hendrik Prai, planned to announce Papuan Independence in 1971. On 1 July 1971 Roemkorem and Prai declared a Republic of West Papua, and drafted a constitution.

Conflicts over strategy between Roemkorem and Prai soon initiated a split of the OPM into two factions; the PEMKA led by Prai, and TPN led by Roemkorem. This greatly weakened OPM's ability as a centralized combat force. It remains widely used, however, invoked by both contemporary fighters and domestic and expatriate political activists.

In 1982 a OPM Revolutionary Council (OPMRC) was established, and under the chairmanship of Moses Werror the OPMRC has sought independence through an International Diplomacy campaign. OPMRC aims to obtain international recognition for West Papuan independence through international forums such as the United Nations, The Non-Aligned Movement of Nations, The South Pacific Forum, and The Association of South East Asian Nations.

In 1984 OPM staged an attack on Jayapura, the provincial capital and a city dominated by non-Melanesian Indonesians. The attack was quickly repelled by the Indonesian military, who followed it with broader counter-insurgency activity. This triggered an exodus of Papuan refugees, apparently supported by the OPM, into camps across the border in Papua New Guinea.

In the mid-1990s, the organization gained renewed prominence and greater support among indigenous Papuans. This was fueled in large part by anger over the actions of the gold mining corporation Freeport-McMoRan, which is accused of environmental damage and of supporting alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. In separate incidents in January and August 1996, OPM captured European and Indonesian hostages; first from a research group and later from a logging camp. Two hostages from the former group were killed and the rest were released.

In July 1998 the OPM raised their independence flag at the Kota Biak water tower on the island of Biak. They stayed there for the following few days before the Indonesian Military broke the group up using force. Reports of a massacre have since surfaced.


The internal organisation of OPM is difficult to determine. In 1996 OPM's 'Supreme Commander' was Mathias Wenda.[9] An OPM spokesperson in Sydney, John Otto Ondawame, says it has nine more or less independent commands.[9] Australian freelance journalist, Ben Bohane, says it has seven independent commands.[9] Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), Indonesia's army, says the OPM has two main wings, the 'Victoria Headquarters' and 'Defenders of Truth'. The former is small, and was led by M L Prawar until he was shot dead in 1991. The latter is much larger and operates all over West Papua. [9]

The larger organisation, or 'Defender of the Truth' or Pembela Kebenaran (henceforth PEMKA), chaired by Mr. Jacob Prai, and Seth Roemkorem was the leader of Victoria Faction. During the killing of Prawar, Roemkorem was his commander.

Prior to this separation, TPN/OPM was one, under the leadership of Seth Roemkorem as the Commander of OPM, then the President of West Papua Provisional Government, while Jacob Prai as the Head of Senate. OPM reached its peak in organisation and management (in modern terms) as it as structurally well organised. During this time, Senegal Government recognised the presence of OPM and allowed OPM to open its Embassy in Dakhar, with Mr. Tanggahma as the Ambassador.

During this time, an undercover operation went on to split the OPM, and resulted in the separation as mentioned above.

Due to the rivalry, Roemkorem left his base and went to the Netherlands. During this time, Prai took over the leadership. John Otto Ondawame (a that time he left his law school in Jayapura because of being followed and threatened to be killed by the Indonesian ABRI day and night) became the right-hand man of Jacob Prai. It was Prai's initiative to establish OPM Regional Commanders. He appointed and ordered nine Regional Commanders. Most of them were members of his own troops at the PEMKA headquarter, Skotiau, Vanimo-West Papua border.

Of those regional Commanders, Mathias Wenda was the commander for region II (Jayapura - Wamena), Kelly Kwalik for Nemangkawi (Fakfak regency), Tadeus Yogi (For Paniai Regency), Bernardus Mawen for Maroke region and others. These commanders have been active ever since. Kelly Kwalik was shot and killed on 16 December 2009.[10]

In 2009, an OPM command group led by General Goliath Tabuni (Puncak Jaya Regency) was featured on an undercover BBC report about the West Papuan independence movement[11].

See also



  • Bell, Ian; Herb Feith; and Ron Hatley (1986). The West Papuan challenge to Indonesian authority in Irian Jaya: old problems, new possibilities. Asian Survey 26(5):539-556.
  • Bertrand, Jaques (1997). "Business as Usual" in Suharto's Indonesia. Asian Survey 37(6):441-452.
  • Evans, Julian (1996). Last stand of the stone age. The Guardian Weekend. August 24:p. T20.
  • Monbiot, George. Poisoned Arrows: An Investigative Journey to the Forbidden Territories of West Papua
  • van der Kroef, Justus M (1968). West New Guinea: the uncertain future. Asian Survey 8(8):691-707.

External links



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