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Book Reveals UN Colluded In West Papua Takeover

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by Joe Humphreys

DUBLIN (The Irish Times/Pacific Media Watch): Evidence of United Nations collusion in the violent takeover of West Papua by Indonesia 40 years ago is revealed in a new book on the subject, which was launched in Dublin this week.

The book*, which draws upon recently declassified UN, British and Australian documents, claims the UN Secretariat deliberately "washed its hands" of the Papua issue by minimising criticism of the 1969 Act of Free Choice, under which 1022 natives, hand-picked by the Indonesian government voted against independence.

As part of this "campaign", senior UN officials "deliberately misrepresented the extent of Papuan hostility to Indonesian: rule," according to the book's author, Dr John Saltford.

He says the UN Secretariat also misled UN member-states by claiming the early withdrawal of peacekeeping troops from West Papua in May 1963 was in accordance with "the wishes of the people".

Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Saltford, who works as a South-east Asian specialist in the UK Public Record Office, said he had never heard of West Papua until he began research for a PhD thesis.

"The more I looked into it the more I was amazed," he said.

"The Papuans had a great deal of trust in the UN, and the UN betrayed them, and it continues to betray them because, so far, it has refused to review its position on the issue."

Up to 30,000 West Papuans were killed in the Indonesian take-over that followed the UN's withdrawal from the territory. A further 70,000 died violently under Indonesian occupation in a conflict which mirrors that of East Timor prior to its recent liberation.

Dr Saltford cites evidence to suggest the UN-sponsored New York Agreement, signed in August 1962 between Indonesia and West Papua's former colonisers, the Netherlands, was a fraud. The three parties pledged to protect the political rights and freedoms of the Papuans but they failed and deliberately so, he says, "because genuine Papuan self-determination was never considered as a serious option by any of them".

When the process became exposed following the shambolic 1969 vote, the UN Secretariat focused its attention “on collaborating with Jakarta in its mission to prevent any international criticism of the Act emerging," Dr Saltford states.

In this regard, he cites a report from the British Embassy in Jakarta, in September 1969, advising that avoiding raising "any awkward questions, would help to gain us Indonesian support over Ireland." Dr Saltford said Australia, as a close ally of Indonesia, remained a major stumbling block on the issue.

"However, there are movements towards a resolution, and I hope this book would make a contribution to that. I know some senior UN officials are aware of the book and are due to study it as it’s the first time some of this information has been made public.

"It really was a betrayal," he added. "I think the UN needs to address that if it wants to keep its status, and I say that as a supporter of the UN."

* The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969: The Anatomy of Betrayal, by Dr John Saltford and published by, Routledge Curzon was launched on 19 November 2002 at a function hosted by West Papua Action and the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin.



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