THE flight from Bali to Jayapura, in the Indonesian half of Papua, offers a stunning view. The planes stop at Timika soon after dawn to connect with helicopters leaving for Grasberg, the largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine in the world. As the sun rises, a vast expanse of lush forest emerges. From the air it is a vision of Eden. But on the ground, these are dark days.
Ever since 1969, and a ludicrously misnamed “Act of Free Choice”, when a decision by 1,025 selected Papuans was deemed an act of self-determination accepting Indonesian sovereignty over the former Dutch colony, simmering, low-level resistance has persisted. After the fall in 1998 of the dictator, Suharto, and the flowering of Indonesian democracy, the region was granted “special autonomy” in 2001 and renamed Papua (from Irian Jaya).
In 2003 it was split into two provinces—Papua and West Papua. But Indonesia continues to rule the region in the Suharto style, through shadowy parts of the security forces. This year a spate of unexplained deaths has raised tensions. At least 17 people have been killed since May. Jayapura’s usually bustling streets are deserted after nightfall. Anonymous text-messages warn people to stay indoors, recalling memories of previous crackdowns.