His name sounds foreign to many Papuans. Perhaps, only a few knows him. However, his activities for the struggle of Papua’s liberation turned out to stretch far. Entirely a secret.

Quoting jubi.co.id, his real name is Tan Sen Thay. Throughout the struggle for Papua’s liberation, Tan worked in silence. He was born and grew up as a Chinese. In 1965, when Suharto began to eradicate and wipe out communism, the Tan family moved to West Papua. His parents were Hokkien transmigrates from China. They migrated to Indonesia in search of a better life.

The Tan family lives in Abepura. Young Tan’s conscience began to be roused when he saw the various human rights violations of Papuans by the Indonesian military. He then decided to head for the forest and joined the liberation movement led by a former Papuan-Indonesian Sergeant named Seth Jafeth Rumkorem. Rumkorem, like his father, Lukas Rumkorem, was once an Indonesian nationalist militia called the red and white line. But after seeing Indonesia’s atrocities against its people, Seth defected and led the resistance. On 1 July 1971, Rumkorem and his followers gathered at the PNG border.

They boycotted the Papua-Indonesia elections. Next, they proclaimed the constitution, senate, army, national flag, and national anthem. Tan was appointed by Rumkorem as Minister of Finance in his cabinet. He went to London, Senegal and the Solomon Islands to garner international support. Meanwhile, his colleagues continued the struggle from the wilderness of Papua. “In 1975, when Tan Sen Thay left his native Indonesian, he arrived in the Netherlands with only two guilders and a traditional West Papuan knitted noken bag,” wrote Rohan Radheya in a long article “The Chinese mechanic who secretly led a 40-year Melanesian revolution” , published on the New Zealand news site www.rnz.co.nz, 28 May 2020.

Rohan Radheya is a Dutch journalist and documentary filmmaker. To the Dutch immigration authorities, Tan claimed to be a senior representative of the West Papuan government. “If we don’t get Dutch help soon, we will be destroyed,” he warned. Tan insisted. According to him, the Netherlands has a moral obligation to help West Papua. After the Trikora incident between the Netherlands and Indonesia in 1961, the Dutch were forced to relinquish Papua under international pressure. In 1969, West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in a highly criticized referendum known as the Act of Free Choice.

Tan eventually obtained political asylum. Tan Sen started working in an old garage in The Hague. He worked assembling golf carts. “As a mechanic, Tan Sen earned a minimum wage of 1,000 guilders a month (about US$500 at the time) for working 80 hours a week. He would send most of his pay back to his colleagues in West Papua who launched sporadic hit-and-run attacks against Indonesian soldiers from the rugged jungles of West Papua. He will wrap the rest of the money in a waist cloth and hide it under his pillow while only surviving on simple instant noodles,” wrote Rohan Radheya.

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