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As many a World War II G.I. can testify, Western New Guinea is an unappetizing piece of real estate—a land of tropical swamps, unexplored mountains and predominantly Stone Age inhabitants. Yet for more than seven years, possession of this forbidding backwater has been the subject of a bitter quarrel between The Netherlands and Indonesia.

In defense of its refusal to turn the area over to the Indonesians—who call it West Irian and claim it on the grounds that it was part of the old Netherlands East Indies—the Netherlands government has consistently argued that 1) Western New Guinea has no ethnic connection with Indonesia, 2) Indonesia has not yet proved able to govern what it has, and 3) the Dutch have a "sacred trust" to prepare the bushy-haired Papuans for self-government. By last week many a thoughtful Dutchman was disturbed by the publication of a report of a nine-man Dutch parliamentary commission that visited New Guinea last year.

Censors & Cannibals. The zoo-page report noted that considerable physical progress had been made in Netherlands New Guinea, particularly in the field of public health. But it also painted an unattractive picture of arbitrary, old-fashioned colonial rule: "In the prison at Doom . . . Indonesian infiltrators were housed six or eight to a small cell." In all Netherlands New Guinea, added the report, no private newspapers are published, and such news as is distributed by the government is carefully censored.

Besides being arbitrary, Dutch administration in New Guinea struck the parliamentary team as often ineffective. Fewer than half the 700,000 native inhabitants of Netherlands New Guinea live in areas "under administrative control." Even in one of the allegedly pacified zones—the Wissel Lakes region—the commission revealed that an uprising against the government and subsequent tribal warfare cost the lives of 200 Papuans and ten government troops in late 1956. At Agats sits a government post with 30 men, but its control hardly extends beyond the village limits and only 30 miles away a group of Papuans killed 50 enemies and ate them up. On Frederik Hendrik Island, 33% of all babies die.

Unanswered Call. According to the parliamentary visitors, the Papuans are not being prepared to take their place in the 20th century world. So far, said the report, the Netherlands government has had "no success" in setting up an educational system adapted to Papuan needs. "Where education is available at the village schools, the highest level attained is scarcely that of the third grade in Dutch elementary schools . . . About 5,000 children attend these village schools, and 5% of them are given the opportunity of enjoying further education . . . There is not yet a single Papuan with a high school diploma."

"The sense of the report," summed up Amsterdam's Roman Catholic daily De Tijd, "comes down to this . . . The great design which was proclaimed like a trumpet call throughout The Netherlands—to make the Papuans ripe for independent activity in all fields—remains a slogan."