Free Papua Movement

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Free Papua Movement
Indonesian: Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM
Leader(s)Jacob Hendrik Prai
Dates of operationDecember 1963 – present
IdeologyPapuan nationalism

The Free Papua Movement (Indonesian: Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM) is an umbrella term for the independence movement established during 1965 in the West Papuan or West New Guinea territory which is currently being administrated by Indonesia as the provinces of Papua and West Papua, also formerly known as Papua, Irian Jaya and West Irian.[1]

The movement consists of three elements: a disparate group of armed units each with limited territorial control with no single commander; several groups in the territory that conduct demonstrations and protests; and a small group of leaders based abroad that raise awareness of issues in the territory whilst striving for international support for independence.[1]

Since its inception the OPM has attempted diplomatic dialogue, conducted Morning Star flag-raising ceremonies, and undertaken militant actions as part of the Papua conflict. Supporters routinely display the Morning Star flag and other symbols of Papuan unity, such as the national anthem "Hai Tanahku Papua" and a national coat of arms, which had been adopted in the period 1961 until Indonesian administration began in May 1963 under the New York Agreement. The militant movement is considered as a separatist in Indonesia, and agitating for independence for the provinces has incurred charges of treason.[2]


Free Papua Movement graffiti in Sentani, Papua

During World War II, the Netherlands East Indies (later Indonesia) were guided by Sukarno to supply oil for the Japanese war effort and subsequently declared independence as the Republic of Indonesia on 17 August 1945. The Netherlands New Guinea (Western New Guinea) and Australian administered territories of Papua and British New Guinea resisted Japanese control and were allies with the American and Australian forces during the Pacific War.

The pre-war relationship of the Netherlands and Netherlands New Guinea was replaced with the promotion of Papuan civil and other services[3] until Indonesian administration began in 1963. Though there was agreement between Australia and the Netherlands by 1957 that it would be preferable for their territories to unite for independence, the lack of development in the Australian territories and the interests of the United States kept the two regions separate. The OPM was founded in December 1963, with the announcement that "We do not want modern life! We refuse any kinds of development: religious groups, aid agencies, and governmental organizations just Leave Us Alone! [sic]"[4]

Netherlands New Guinea held elections in January 1961 and a New Guinea Council was inaugurated in April 1961. However, in Washington, D.C. there was a desire for Indonesia to release CIA pilot Allen Pope,[5] there was a proposal for United Nations trusteeship of West New Guinea,[6] Indonesian President Sukarno said he was willing 'to borrow the hand of the United Nations to transfer the territory to Indonesia',[7] and the National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy began to lobby U.S President John F. Kennedy to get the administration of West New Guinea transferred to Indonesia.[8] The resulting New York Agreement was drafted by Robert Kennedy and signed by the Netherlands and Indonesia before being approved subject to the Charter of the United Nations article 85[9] in General Assembly resolution 1752[10] on 21 September 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.[11] Separatist groups raise the West Papua Morning Star flag each year on 1 December, which they call "Papuan independence day". An Indonesian police officer speculated that people doing this could be charged with the crime of treason, which carries the penalty of imprisonment for seven to twenty years in Indonesia.[12]

In October 1968, 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.[13] 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" and that "possibly 85 to 90 percent [of Papuans], are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause or at least intensely dislike Indonesians".[14]

Indonesian 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 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.[15][16] One thousand and twenty five Papuan elders were selected from and instructed on the required procedure as specified by the article 1962 New York Agreement. The result was a consensus for integration into Indonesia.

Republic of West Papua Declaration[edit]

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.

Starting from 1976, officials at mining company Freeport Indonesia received letters from the OPM threatening the company and demanding assistance in a planned uprising in the spring. The company refused to cooperate with OPM. From July until 7 September 1977, OPM insurgents carried out their threats against Freeport and cut slurry and fuel pipelines, slashed telephone and power cables, burned down a warehouse, and detonated explosives at various facilities. Freeport estimated the damage at $US123,871.23.[17]

In 1982 a OPM Revolutionary Council (OPMRC) was established, and under the chairmanship of Moses Werror the OPMRC has sought independence through a campaign of international diplomacy. 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.

On 14 February 1986, Freeport Indonesia received information that the OPM was again becoming active in their area, and that some of Freeport's employees were OPM members or sympathisers. On 18 February, a letter signed by a "Rebel General" warned that "On Wed. 19th, there will be some rain on Tembagapura". At around 22:00 that night several unidentified people cut Freeport's slurry and fuel pipelines by hacksaw, causing "a substantial loss of slurry, containing copper, silver and gold ores and diesel fuel." Additionally, the saboteurs set fire along the breaks in the fuel line, and shot at police that tried to approach the fires. On 14 April of that same year, OPM insurgents cut more pipelines, slashed electric wires, vandalised plumbing, and burned equipment tyres. Repair crews were attacked by OPM gunfire as they approached the sites of the damage, so Freeport requested police and military assistance.[17]

Free West Papua protest in Netherlands, 2008

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 up the group. Filep Karma was among those arrested.[18]

On 24 October 2011, Adj. Comr. Dominggus Oktavianus Awes, the Mulia Police chief, was shot by unknown assailants at Mulia Airport in Puncak Jaya regency. The National Police of Indonesia alleged that the perpetrators were members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist group. The series of attacks prompted deployments of more personnel to Papua.[19]

On 21 January 2012, armed men, believed to be members of OPM, shot and killed a civilian who was running a roadside kiosk. He was a transmigrant from West Sumatra.[20]

On 8 January 2012, OPM conducted an attack on a public bus which caused the death of three civilians and one member of an Indonesian security force. Four others were also injured.[21]

Free West Papua protest in Melbourne, August 2012

On 31 January 2012, an OPM member was caught carrying 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of drugs on the Indonesian – Papua New Guinea Border. It was alleged that the drugs were intended to be sold in the city of Jayapura.[22]

On 8 April 2012, Indonesian media sources alleged that armed members of OPM carried out an attack on a civilian aircraft flown by Trigana Air on a scheduled service after it landed and was taxiing towards an apron at Mulia Airport on Puncak Jaya, Papua. Five armed OPM militants suddenly opened fire on the moving plane, causing it to go out of control and crash into a building. One person who died, Leiron Kogoya, a journalist for Papua Pos, had suffered a neck gunshot wound. Amongst those wounded were the pilot, Beby Astek, and co-pilot, Willy Resubun, both wounded by shrapnel; Yanti Korwa, a housewife who was hurt by shrapnel on her right arm, and her four-year-old infant, Pako Korwa, who was afflicted by shrapnel on his left hand.[23] In response to the allegations, West Papuan media sources denied that the OPM was responsible for the attack, alleging that the Indonesian military had attacked the plane as a part of a false flag operation.[24]

In December 2012, one of the mercenaries that were trained by the Ukrainian government was arrested for planning to train the OPM.[25]

On April 26, 2018, one of the volunteers from the Polish military was arrested in Wamena after training the OPM and was charged for treason.[26][27]

Organisational hierarchy and governing authority[edit]

Dozens of warriors with staffs in canoes
West Papuan war party, 2018

The internal organisation of OPM is difficult to determine. In 1996 OPM's 'Supreme Commander' was Mathias Wenda.[28] An OPM spokesperson in Sydney, John Otto Ondawame, says it has nine more or less independent commands.[28] Australian freelance journalist, Ben Bohane, says it has seven independent commands.[28] 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.[28]

The larger organisation, or 'Defender of the Truth' or Pembela Kebenaran (henceforth PEMKA), was chaired by 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 as it was structurally well organised. During this time, the Senegal Government recognised the presence of OPM and allowed OPM to open its embassy in Dakar, with Tanggahma as the ambassador.

Due to the rivalry, Roemkorem left his base and went to the Netherlands. During this time, Prai took over the leadership. John Otto Ondawame, who had left his law school in Jayapura because of being followed and threatened with death 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 nine of them, most of whom 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 (Paniai Regency), and Bernardus Mawen for Maroke region. These commanders have been active ever since, with the exception of Kelly Kwalik who was shot and killed on 16 December 2009.[29]

In 2009, an OPM command group led by General Goliath Tabuni (Puncak Jaya Regency) was featured on an undercover report about the West Papuan independence movement.[30]

In 2018, armed groups with ties to OPM killed 31 civilian construction workers at Nduga area, Papua. [31] The construction workers had allegedly filmed the group at an Independence celebration and raising the Moring Star flag - considered illegal acts by Indonesian authorities.[32] The construction workers are building a part of Trans Papua, a highway construction project that aims to connect remote communities in Papua by land.[33] During the incident, an Indonesian soldier was also shot and killed. A few days after the incident, the OPM allegedly sent an open letter to Indonesian president Joko Widodo, demanding for Papaun independence, rejecting central government infrastructure building projects, and demanding the right for foreign journalists and aid workers to enter Papua.[34] In reprisals to obtain the dead workers bodies Indonesian military allegedly carried out airstrikes on at least four villages and used white phosphorus,[35] a chemical weapon banned by numerous countries and international organizations.[36] This was however denied by the Indonesian government.[37][38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (24 August 2015). The current status of the Papuan pro-independence movement (PDF) (Report). IPAC Report No.21. Jakarta, Indonesia. OCLC 974913162. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  2. ^ Lintner, Bertil (22 January 2009). "Papuans Try to Keep Cause Alive". Jakarta Globe. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013.
  3. ^ "Report on Netherlands New Guinea for the year 1961". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  4. ^ "Free Papua Movement (OPM)". Global Terrorism Database. University of Maryland, College Park. Archived from the original on 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  5. ^ "Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  6. ^ "Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Kohler) to Secretary of State Rusk". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  7. ^ "Document 172 – Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XXIII, Southeast Asia – Historical Documents – Office of the Historian". 1961-04-24. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  8. ^ "U.S. Dept. of State Foreign Relations, 1961–63, Vol XXIII, Southeast Asia". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  9. ^ "Charter of the United Nations, International Trusteeship System". Archived from the original on 2014-07-12. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  10. ^ "17th session of the General Assembly". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  11. ^ Text of New York Agreement
  12. ^ "Protest and Punishment Political Prisoners in Papua Report by Human Rights Watch". 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  13. ^ "New York Times, Papuans at U.N. score Indonesia, Lobbyists asking nations to insure fair plebiscite" (PDF).
  14. ^ "National Security Archive at George Washington University, Document 8". Retrieved 2014-06-28.
  15. ^ "New York Times interview July 5, 1969" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Interview May 10, 1969" (PDF).
  17. ^ a b Bishop, R. Doak; Crawford, James; William Michael Reisman (2005). Foreign Investment Disputes: Cases, Materials, and Commentary. Wolters Kluwer. pp. 609–611.
  18. ^ Chauvel, Richard (6 April 2011). "Filep Karma and the fight for Papua's future". Inside Story. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  19. ^ Saragih, Bagus BT Saragih; Dharma Somba, Nethy (25 October 2011). "Police hunt for OPM rebels". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  20. ^ "Antara News article" (in Indonesian).
  21. ^ "Berita article" (in Indonesian).
  22. ^ "Suararpembaruan article" (in Indonesian).
  23. ^ "Viva News article" (in Indonesian). Archived from the original on 2012-04-11.
  24. ^ westpapuamedia (9 April 2012). "Doubts grow of OPM responsibility for Puncak Jaya aircraft shooting". Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b c d van Klinken, Gerry (1996). "OPM information". Inside Indonesia. 02. Archived from the original on July 8, 2007.
  29. ^ Indonesia police 'kill' Papua separatist Kelly Kwalik BBC News, 16 December 2009
  30. ^ "Papua's struggle for independence". BBC News. 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  31. ^ "Separatist gunmen kill 31 workers in Papua region: Indonesian officials". ABC News. 2018-12-04. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  32. ^ "Chemical weapons dropped on Papua". The Saturday Paper. 2018-12-22. Retrieved 2018-12-23.
  33. ^ McBeth, John. "Blood on the tracks of Widodo's Papuan highway". Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  34. ^ "Istana Buka Suara Soal Dugaan Surat Terbuka OPM untuk Jokowi". nasional. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  35. ^ "Chemical weapons dropped on Papua". The Saturday Paper. 2018-12-22. Retrieved 2018-12-23.
  36. ^
  37. ^ "Indonesia denies use of chemical weapons in Papua". The Jakarta Post. 2018-12-24. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  38. ^ "Indonesian military describes reports of chemical weapon attacks on West Papuans as 'fake news'". 2018-12-23. Retrieved 2019-09-30.

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