Konradus Epa, Jakarta – Indigenous people have stepped up their opposition to an Indonesian government proposal to break up the country's predominantly Christian easternmost Papua region into six provinces.
Thousands took to the streets of Wamena in Papua province's Jayawijaya district on March 10, a day after similar rallies were held in Jakarta and the Papuan capital Jayapura, against a plan by the Ministry of Home Affairs to set up six new provinces in place of the current two – Papua and West Papua.
If the government gets its way, provinces called Northwest Papua, West Papua, Central Papua, Central Highlands, South Papua and Papua Tabi Saireri would be established.
However, opponents believe the move will enable Jakarta to tighten government control over the restive region and further marginalize its indigenous people.
"We need to resolve human rights violations and security issues and not create new provinces. This will only stoke more conflict and make Papuans suffer more," rally organizer Dano Tabuni told the Wamena protesters.
He said the aim of the protest was to get members of the regional legislative council in Wamena to reject the plan.
"New provinces aren't what Papuans want. It only serves the interests of the political elite in Papua and Jakarta," Tabuni said.
"Indigenous Papuans have not been consulted on this matter. Any such move should be transparent and honest in a democratic country."
Father John Bunay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, said the people were right to oppose new provinces.
"There seems to be an ulterior political motive here as it won't develop Papua. The population in the region isn't big enough to justify six provinces," he told UCA News.
The current population in West Papua and Papua provinces stands at about 4.3 million, according to government figures.
Markus Haluk, director of the pro-independence United Liberation Movement for West Papua, said new provinces would likely result in mass migration from other regions to Papua.
"It would be detrimental to the people of Papua's development and will marginalize them further. It isn't a solution to problems in the region," he said.
Late last month, Father Alexandro Rangga from the Franciscans' Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua said the proposal's motive was likely an attempt to gain control over Papua's natural resources, which would attract many outsiders.
"The birth of a new autonomous region causes indigenous Papuans to be increasingly marginalized due to massive transmigration of residents from outside the region," he said.
He said the policy was not a solution for the welfare of the Papuan people because when several districts were divided in recent years, problems such as malnutrition and poor health services continued to occur.