'Unitary Republic of Indonesia NO, Referendum YES' - activists have been demanding that President Joko Widodo offer the option of a referendum to decide if Papuans want independence from Indonesia. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Indonesia Closes Door on Papuan Referendum


SEPTEMBER 03, 2019

Jakarta. Indonesia has closed the door on an independence referendum for Papua, Chief Security Minister Wiranto said on Tuesday.

He said according to international law, an independence referendum is not an option for Indonesia's two easternmost provinces, Papua and West Papua.


The two provinces are located on the western side of Papua Island. Papua shares a land border with Papua New Guinea.

The retired Army general said Papua and West Papua are recognized by the United Nations as parts of the Republic of Indonesia.

A referendum for what was then called West Papua – before the area was split into two provinces – was held in 1969 and overseen by the UN, which resulted in the area becoming part of Indonesia.

What is happening in Papua now is different to what happened in East Timor, which broke away from Indonesia following a UN-sponsored act of self-determination in 1999, according to Wiranto who was the Indonesian Military commander at the time. 

Since East Timor was a Portuguese colony, the country had the right to hold a referendum that led to its independence as East Timor or Timor Leste.

"Dialogue [to discuss the issue of Papua] is important but it needs to be constructive. We've closed the door on the referendum [for Papua and West Papua]. There will be no dialogue on [Papua] independence," Wiranto said at a press conference in Jakarta.

During pro-independence rallies in several cities in Papua and West Papua in the past two weeks, demonstrators carried the banned Morning Star flag of the Papua independence movement.

In a rally in Sorong on Aug. 27, protesters handed the Indonesian national flag to the district head and called for a referendum.