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Traders, however, visited the flatter coastal regions of Irian Jaya, as early as the 7th century from Sriwijaya. European traders began arriving in the early 16th century, looking for spices and have left historical footprints in the area with names such as Bougainville, Cape D'Urville and the Torres Straits, named after Luis Baez de Torres, a Spanish navigator from the early 17th. It was the Dutch who made the most lasting impact on the island, who in 1828, formally made Irian a Dutch Territory which was not released until 1962.

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 Organization Papua Merdeka (OPM; Free Papua Movement), led by Theys Eluay; the Papuan Taskforce, a pro-independence civil guard; and the Papua Presidium, which favors achieving independence through negotiation with the Indonesian government.


West Irian Jaya covers the Bird's Head Peninsula (Jazirah Doberai) and surrounding islands. West Irian Jaya was created from the western Papua province portion in February 2003. The split remains controversial. Supporters, including those in the central government in Jakarta and immigrants to Papua from elsewhere in Indonesia, argue that the creation of new province will help ensure the efficient management of resources and fair distribution of services. The split is widely opposed in Papua itself, where it is viewed as a violation of special autonomy laws governing Papua, and as an effort to quell the Papuan separatist movement.

In November 2004, an Indonesian court agreed that the split violated Papua's autonomy laws. However, the court ruled that because the new province had already been created, it should remain separate from Papua. The ruling also prohibited the creation of another proposed province, Central Irian Jaya, because the split was not yet completed.

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