Western portion of the island of New Guinea, disputed province of Indonesia; area 420,000 sq km/162,000 sq mi; population (2000 est) 2,220,900. The capital is Jayapura. Most of the population depends on subsistence farming, especially the cultivation of rice and maize. The main industries include copper (with the largest concentration of copper in the world at Tembagapura), palm oil, copra, maize, groundnuts, pepper, tuna, gold, oil, coal, and phosphates. It is mostly a mountainous and forested region, with the Pegunungan Maoke range rising to 5,029 m/16,499 ft at Jaya Peak. The population comprises Melanesians (original settlers of Western New Guinea), Papuans, Negritos, and Europeans. Indigenous animism prevails. The province declared independence from Indonesia, as West Papua, in June 2000. However, the president of Indonesia stated that the declaration was unrepresentative of true feeling in the province.
Irian Jaya became part of the Dutch East Indies in 1828 as Western New Guinea, and later became known as Irian Barat. It was retained by the Netherlands after Indonesian independence in 1949 but, after an internationally unrecognized declaration of independence was issued in 1961, it was placed under United Nations (UN) administration in 1962. It was transferred to Indonesia in 1963. As agreed with the UN, a referendum on Irian Barat's future was held in 1969 and it decided to remain part of Indonesia, becoming the province of Irian Jaya. Since then, opposition to Indonesian rule and the fight for independence has been led by the Organisasi Papua Merdeki (OPM; Free Papua Movement), led by Theys Eluay; the Papuan Taskforce, a pro-independence civil guard; and the Papua Presidium, which favours achieving independence through negotiation with the Indonesian government.
© RM 2013. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.