From Trikora to Pepera – Indonesia’s Take Over of West Papua

Pepera - activehistory.com
Pepera - activehistory.com

Indonesia proclaimed its Independence in 17th of August 1945. However, there is one region that remains as a diplomatic and political conflict between the Netherlands and Indonesia. It was Western New Guinea (West Papua). Indonesia had always considered West Papua as a part of the its state, but the Dutch refuse to recognize it and illegally occupied the territory.

For more than 15 years, from its Independence Day until 1961, Indonesia failed to gain authority of West Papua. The Dutch argued that the West Papua territory did not belong to Indonesia since the people of West Papua is Melanesians—not Indonesians. While it is true that Melanesian was physically and ethnically different from Indonesian, the fact is Indonesia has always been a large home for Melanesians. Besides West Papua, Melanesians in Indonesia are located in Maluku Island, South Maluku, and East Nusa Tenggara.

Trikora  - wordpress.com
Trikora – wordpress.com

Indonesia had pursued bilateral negotiations with the Netherlands regarding the status of West Papua. Took place at The Hague between December 1950 and January 1952, these meetings failed to produce an agreement. In 1954, Indonesia also attempted to raise support from United Nations (UN) and having it placed on the agenda for the ninth session at UN General Assembly. In response, the Netherlands represented by Herman van Roijen (Dutch Ambassador to the UN) warned to ignore any recommendation to be made on that assembly.

Once again, Indonesia’s effort for West Papua dispute was without success. This has made Indonesian government envision further and became more strategic—it came to a sense that taking over West Papua requires a strategy which combined diplomatic, political, and economic pressure, along with military invasion. Soekarno emphasized this issue as an important priority on his presidency through many of his speeches, and gain popular support from the Indonesian public. By 1953, the West Papua dispute had become the central issue in Indonesian domestic politics.

Indonesian government embarked on a national campaign targeting Dutch economic interests in Indonesia in November 1957. This led to the withdrawal of the Dutch flag carrier KLM’s landing rights, the take over of Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) shipping line along with Dutch-owned banks and other states, mass demonstrations, and many more. By January 1958, ten thousand Dutch residents in Indonesia left, mostly returned to the Netherlands.

On 19 December 1961, President Soekarno declare the Tri Komando Rakyat (Trikora) or People’s Triple Command. The content of Trikora was pretty clear and assertive:

  • Stop the execution of Papua becoming a doll-country by the Netherlands
  • Raise the red-and-white flag of Indonesia in West Irian (Papua)
  • Prepare for general mobilization to preserve the independence and unity of Indonesia

With the objective of liberating West Papua by 1 January 1963, Trikora operation was started by establishing a special team called Komando Mandala Pembebasan Irian Barat (the Mandala Command). This team was under the command of Major-General Soeharto, and headquartered in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The Mandala Command enforced Trikora Operation in three phases: infiltration, exploitation, and consolidation.

Pepera - activehistory.com
Pepera – activehistory.com

The infiltration phase began in January 1962. The first attempt for an amphibious landing was failed and ended disastrously, in which many crew members and marines were killed; along with numerous Indonesian navy boats experienced bad damages. However, over the next 8 months, Indonesia successfully infiltrate 1154 troops through the air and 562 armies by the sea. In mid-1962, Indonesian military activity continued to escalate in the area, preparing for the second pace of Trikora Operation

The exploitation phase was executed by targeting the Netherlands’ main power base in West Papua, at Biak island. On 13 and 14 August 1962, a force of 7000 paratroops, 4500 marines, and 13000 armies deployed to fight against the Dutch military base at Biak. At that time, the Netherlands government was struggling to gain international military support. On the other hand, Indonesia was supported by the Soviet military assistance.

On 15 August 1962, the Netherlands agreed to sign the New York Agreement, consisting several important points. Firstly, the Netherlands officially transfer the authority of West Papua to UN by 1 October 1962. Then, Indonesian flag was raised in West Papua, along with UN flag, started from 31 December 1962 until UN officially handed over the authority of West Papua to Indonesia. It was a huge diplomatic triumph for Indonesia because West Papua finally got international recognition as a legitimate territory of Indonesia.

However, West Papua would not automatically handed-over to Indonesia. As one of the most important points of New York Agreement was the arrangement for the Act of Free Choice, Indonesia must give the West Papua inhabitants freedom to choose, whether they want to join Indonesia or not. It was then called Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat (Pepera) under UN supervision.

During the Act of Free Choice, representatives came to vote simply by raising their hand to make a choice. Representation system in an election is very common in Papua, they called it Noken. Once everybody knew who or what they wanted to choose, a representative would be sent to make the vote. After the voting, their decisions was made, and the UN respected the result. In 1969, West Papua then officially became the territory of Indonesia.