West New Guinea dispute

Decolonization of the Pacific

Australasia 1962.1116

West New Guinea dispute

Decolonization of the Pacific (16 November 1962)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

When the Netherlands recognized Indonesian independence, it retained western New Guinea on the grounds that its West Papuan inhabitants did not want Indonesian rule. Nonetheless, Indonesia continued to claim the territory, launching attacks on it in 1962. Under US mediation, the Dutch agreed to transfer West New Guinea to the UN, which then transferred it on to Indonesia on the condition that Indonesia grant the West Papuans a referendum on independence in 1969. Although this referendum ultimately rejected independence, the fact that only a tiny minority had been allowed to vote meant that its outcome was never fully accepted by many West Papuans.

Main Events

Operation Trikora

On 19 December 1961, President Sukarno of Indonesia decreed the establishment of the People's Triple Command (Trikora) in order to annex the Indonesian-claimed Dutch overseas territory of West New Guinea. Indonesian incursions into the territory began early the next year, with the landing and attempted landing of soldiers, marines, and paratroops in several operations along the coast. Although the Dutch largely thwarted these efforts, they were unwilling to be drawn into a protracted conflict and agreed to bring the dispute to the United Nations.

Samoan Independence

The United Nations Trust Territory of Western Samoa gained independence from New Zealand as the independent state of Western Samoa. Its first prime minister following independence was paramount chief Fiame Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinu'u II.

Australia and NZ in Vietnam

Australia contributed 30 military advisers to assist the US in South Vietnam in 1962. By the beginning of 1965 there were some 200 Australian personnel in Vietnam, when the Menzies Government decides to massively increase its commitment to a peak of 7,672 personnel. 1965 also saw New Zealand begin its involvement by sending troops to Vietnam, peaking at 543 personnel. Both countries withdrew in 1972.

New York Agreement

Under US mediation, the Netherlands and Indonesia signed an agreement at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to decide the fate of the Dutch territory of West New Guinea. The agreement allowed the United Nations to temporarily administer West New Guinea before transferring the territory to Indonesia. It was stipulated that the Indonesians would then grant the inhabitants of West New Guinea a plebiscite in 1969 to determine whether or not they would form a separate state.

UN Temporary Executive Authority

In accordance with the New York Agreement, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority took up administration of West New Guinea - the first time in its history that the United Nations had assumed direct administrative responsibility for a territory. Over the seven month course of the administration, Dutch civil servants and officials were recalled to the Netherlands and replaced by their local and Indonesian equivalents. The protectorate ended on 1 May 1963, when authority over West New Guinea was transferred to Indonesia.

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