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The Indonesian province of Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, covers the western part of New Guinea and shares its eastern border with Papua New Guinea. It is also known as West Papua, Western New Guinea, West Irian, Irian Barat or Papua Barat.

The homeland of several hundred tribes and cultures, the native Papuan people have been racially and linguistically different from the Pacific Melanesian, and Asiaic people of South East Asia for over thirty thousand years.

Though not colonised, the region was claimed by the Netherlands as part of the Dutch East Indies from the 19th century onwards, and then Indonesia since 1961 after an invasion force of 1,419 Indonesian soldiers arrived.

The terms of the handover from the Dutch to Indonesia in 1961 included the agreement that Indonesia was to allow a United Nations supervised 'Act of Free Choice' by 1969; this was instead undertaken by the Indonesian military. The "act of free choice" took the form of selecting 1026 representatives, teaching them the Indonesian language and explaining that the Netherlands was claiming their land and that Indonesia would help them remove any Dutch claim to colonial ownership of Western New Guinea; and finally having these representatives vote in front of armed Indonesian military. Neither of the two Western nations with an interest and some influence in the area, the Netherlands and Australia, saw fit to protest against these actions.

Resistance to Indonesian occupation, both from the quasi-military Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM, or Free Papua Movement) and through civil disobedience, has been a recurrent theme since the 1960s to now.

Papua provides considerable revenue to Indonesia through the licensing of exclusive mineral rights to the Freeport Corporation since 1967. With a large oil deposit found in 2001, it is claimed by critics that some governments continue to have a considerable motivation to veto any initiatives in the UN to review human rights violations or the wish of the Papuan people for self determination.

Though New Guinea is one of the few significant rain forest regions left, and has an astonishingly diverse ecology, Indonesia has been strip logging vast areas of forest to provide cheap wood for the Japanese paper industry. There have been credible but disputed reports that the world's largest gold and copper mine makes a practice of discharging untreated toxic wastes into the local river system, poisoning many villages.

An August 2001 US State Department travel warning advised "all travel by U.S. and other foreign government officials to Aceh, Papua and the Moluccas (provinces of North Maluku and Maluku) has been restricted by the Indonesian government". As few non-government organisations are allowed in and these are restricted to the Indonesian townships, very little is known of internal events in Papua.

In December 2001 the official name of the province was changed from "Irian Jaya" to "Papua". "Irian Jaya" was seen as symbolic of Indonesian dominance and much disliked by Papuans, with advocates of Papuan independence insisting on using "West Papua" instead. Somewhat confusingly, there has been another "Papua" in a different part of the same island: the Australian Territory of Papua in the south east which gave rise to the "Papua" in "Papua New Guinea".

A proposal to split the province into three new provinces: Papua Barat (West Papua), Papua Tengah (Central Papua) and Papua Timur (East Papua) was not ratified.

Postage stamps

During the 1960s, the region had its own postage stamps. The first were overprints reading "UNTEA" (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority) applied to the stamps of Netherlands New Guinea, issued in 1962. There are four slightly different types of overprint, three types applied locally, and a fourth made in the Netherlands and sold by the UN in New York City.

These were superseded on 1 May 1963 by stamps of Indonesia overprinted "IRIAN BARAT" and a series of six commemoratives whose designs included a map of Indonesia stretching "from Sabang to Merauke" and a parachutist landing in New Guinea. These, as were later issues in 1968 and 1970, were inscribed both "IRIAN BARAT" and "REPUBLIK INDONESIA". The last issue specifically for the territory consisted of two depicting birds (Black-Capped Lory and Bird of Paradise), issued 26 October 1970.