Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Papua province Monday to inspect destruction from an anti-Jakarta riot that killed dozens of people last month, as critics complained that he had failed to address human rights issues at the heart of the conflict.
The visit was Jokowi’s first to the country’s easternmost province since a wave of street protests, sometimes violent, began in August over alleged racist remarks against Papuan students on Java island.
“We want everything to return to normal,” Joko said in remarks released by the cabinet secretariat.
Mobs torched government buildings, shops and homes after a rally descended into chaos on Sept. 23 in Wamena, the largest town in Papua’s highlands. At least 40 people were killed and about 16,000 of the 42,000 residents were uprooted or evacuated as a result.
Jokowi urged local authorities to rebuild the town’s Wouma market immediately along with homes and shops with assistance from the military and state-owned companies.
“We should learn from the recent events and unite to rebuild Papua,” he said.
Later, Jokowi traveled to the provincial capital Jayapura and officially launched the new Youtefa Bridge, which cost 1.8 trillion rupiah ($128.4 million) to build.
“A bridge can serve many functions and its multiplier effect can benefit the people,” Jokowi said.
The president promised to pay closer attention to Papua and West Papua provinces and visit the region two or three times a year during his second five-year term, which began last week. On Sunday, Jokowi visited West Papua.
“This is my 13th visit to Papua and we are determined to develop Papua to make it more advanced,” Jokowi said.
The president made constructing roads, bridges and infrastructure in Papua a priority in his first term, but that effort came into question in December 2018 when armed rebels killed 19 workers building a trans-Papua highway.
The government said that those killed were civilians working for a state-owned construction company, but the West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the separatist movement, insisted they were soldiers.
Rights activist reacts
Papuan human rights activist Theo Hasegem said that despite Jokowi’s frequent visits, no rights abuse cases have been resolved during the president’s watch.
“If the conflict continues, who will enjoy the infrastructure development? That is a question that Papuans have been asking,” Hasegem told BenarNews.
The Wamena riot came a few weeks after protests that began in late August killed about a dozen people. Government buildings and schools were damaged while 450 shops and 165 homes were burned, according to the government.
The riot was the worst since 2000 when 30 people were killed during clashes between residents and security forces.
The government has blamed the separatist United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) and the National Committee for West Papua for the unrest that has gripped Papua and West Papua since August when protesters took to the streets to demand a vote on self-determination.
The Papua region was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.
Late last month, Jokowi said he was ready to hold talks with separatist leaders to solve the conflict.
But ULMWP chairman Benny Wenda said the prospects of any talks depended on the government’s willingness to discuss a referendum on self-determination and withdraw 16,000 additional troops and police sent to the region in August.