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By Dupito Simamora, Indonesian Diplomat to UN, New York

JAKARTA, Indonesia (August 19, 2002 – Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Recently, there has been greater attention given to Papua by various parties, which has led to charges that the right of the Papuans to self-determination has been denied, not safeguarded. This is closely related to the 1969 Act of Free Choice (AFC).

These critics further argue that the United Nations should review the AFC, sometimes derided as the "Act of No Choice."

It is timely now to review the process of the return of the territory to Indonesia in a comprehensive and objective manner.

The question of Papua is closely linked to Indonesia's struggle against colonialism. Despite Indonesia's declaration of independence on Aug. 17, 1945, the Netherlands tried to extend its three-and-a-half-century colonization of the country. Thanks to the intervention of the UN Security Council, a peaceful settlement was achieved in the Hague Round Table Conference in 1949, during which the Netherlands unconditionally accepted and recognized the independence and sovereignty of Indonesia.

However, the Dutch left the issue of Papua unresolved. This was a difficult compromise for Indonesia, but it had good faith that the matter would be resolved within a year as stipulated in the 1949 agreement.

If the Netherlands had not reneged on the original agreement, a final solution would have been reached on a purely bilateral basis in 1950. West Papua was part of the Netherlands East Indies, and previous agreements between Indonesia and the Netherlands, such as the Linggarjati, stipulated that the territory of the Unitary State of Indonesia comprised the entire territory of the Netherlands East Indies. In spite of still being under a foreign occupying power, Papua was part of the new Republic.

Following the failure to resolve the issue, Indonesia has, since 1954, consistently referred the dispute to the UN General Assembly. Following several protracted negotiations that enjoyed the full involvement and agreement of then UN secretary-general U Thant, Indonesia and the Netherlands accepted a U.S. peace plan under that country's ambassador to the UN, Elsworth Bunker.

On Aug. 15, 1962, the two governments signed the New York Agreement, which resolved the dispute. The agreement was presented to the General Assembly, which later adopted resolution 1752 (XVII) in favor of a UN role in easing the transition to Indonesian control, and giving the secretary-general latitude in administering the territory. In conformity to the agreement, the Netherlands transferred the administration of Papua to the UN Temporary Executive Authority in West New Guinea (UNTEA) on Oct. 1, 1962, which in turn transferred it to Indonesia on May 1, 1963.

After the AFC in 1969, Indonesia and the Netherlands, along with four other UN members, submitted a draft resolution to the General Assembly, which was later adopted as resolution 2504 (XXIV).

The UN had therefore completed its task of finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the long and painful dispute between the Netherlands and Indonesia. Both countries fully accepted the 1969 New York Agreement and the conduct of the AFC, which was evident in their sponsorship of the historic resolution marking the successful conclusion of decolonization in Indonesia.

The peaceful settlement of the Papua issue in the General Assembly is part and parcel of the Security Council's successful intervention in the Indonesian issue, which led to the country's membership in the UN.

It is a success story for the UN, which exercised its Charter responsibilities in first securing an independent and sovereign Indonesia, and then completed decolonization of the country.

Some critics are quick to draw attention to the claim by former under-secretary-general Narasimhan Chakravarty that the AFC was a "whitewash." That kind of claim should neither be taken at face value, nor should the efforts of the entire organization be so lightly dismissed.

Contrary to the views of critics who desire a review of the AFC, the United Nations' handling of the matter should be used as a model for other conflict situations. In his recent book on the UN under U Thant, Bernard J. Firestone observes that the UN demonstrated that it was capable of innovative peacekeeping.

In his view, the UN operation in Papua, through the UNTEA, was extraordinary because it was the first time that it was being tasked with direct administration of a territory. Firestone further pointed out that the Papuans were consulted through representative councils, and that the 1969 plebiscite revealed that the inhabitants of West Papua favored maintaining their link with Indonesia. This achievement must be appreciated with an understanding of the difficult terrain and the condition of the population at that time.

Some people are inclined to think that the UN involvement in both cases suggests that the time has come to "liberate" Papua.

The comparison is irrelevant because Papua involved an occupied territory of an independent and sovereign Indonesia by the Dutch, in contravention to its commitment to the Charter. On the other hand, East Timor was recognized as one of the non-self-governing territories to which General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV) are applicable.

While some contend that East Timor's decolonization will weaken Indonesia's claim over Papua, the writer believes that developments in East Timor reinforces Indonesian territorial integrity over its present territory.

During his recent visit to Indonesia and East Timor, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed that East Timor is a unique case since it was not originally a part of Indonesia and that Indonesia's Constitution says that the territory of Indonesia will be the territory of the former Dutch colony. Annan also pointed out that the UN respects Indonesia's territorial integrity and should not be expected to create several East Timors out of Indonesia.

It is also important to be cautious in considering what is relevant to the issue of self-determination. Being ethnically different should not be a divisive factor, because in countries of diverse ethnicities that would be very dangerous indeed.

Dissatisfaction with human rights situations, different religious convictions, socio-economic disparities and rights of indigenous peoples do not in themselves justify demands for self-determination. Differences should not lead to calls for separatism. If we choose to splinter into ethnic, tribal or religious groupings, few countries can expect to be safe from turmoil.

Alleviating people's grievances will not be accomplished by reviewing the 1969 AFC. Hence, the separatist group and its supporters should discard this idea as it would only disrupt the development process, and would also contravene the principles of the UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions.

On the contrary, the attainment of greater welfare for the people would best be served through the implementation of the 2001 special autonomy law.

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