Yance Wenda, Jayapura – Hundreds of university students from Lapago Customary Territory gathered on Monday in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, to reject the central government and local administration plan to establish new provinces in Papua Land or West Papua.
The students claimed that the plan to establish a new province in the Lapago area was more motivated by the interests of the local political "elites" to gain power, not to make the Lapago area prosper.
Lapago Customary Territory is one of seven customary territories in Papua and West Papua provinces and consists of 10 regencies: Jayawijaya, Puncak Jaya, Pegunungan Bintang, Tolikara, Yahukimo, Lanny Jaya, Puncak, Nduga, Mamberamo Tengah, and Yalimo.
The rally was a reaction to a meeting between Lapago customary leaders with Commission II overseeing regional administration of the House of Representatives in Jakarta a week earlier. The meeting discussed the plan to have a new province in Lapago territory.
The students claimed that the idea to form a new province was not what the people wanted. The students demanded a referendum on self-determination instead.
The head of the Students Association from Nduga Regency, Warnus Tabuni, demanded that Lapago Customary Territory elites stop claiming that they acted on behalf of the people to establish the new province. "Who is it for? The number of Papuan people is small. So who would be recruited to work for the new administrations?" Tabuni said.
He went on to say that Papua province was enough to develop the area. Tabuni said the student association would deliver their message to the Papuan People's Assembly and Papua Legislative Council.
Tabuni said the students were skeptical about the benefits of the new provinces. They even suspected that the new provinces, which usually mean new local political elites, would hamper Papuan people's access to justice and truth on human rights violations.
The rally coordinator, Robi Wenda, said Lapago people were surprised to hear that several Lapago figures went to Jakarta to ask for a new province. He suggested the central government verify statements from Papuan figures claiming to act on behalf of the people. "We want a referendum, not new provinces," he said.
The students referred to the news that several Lapago figures went to meet lawmakers in the House to ask for new provinces. The House is deliberating revisions to the special autonomy law for Papua and one of them was to simplify the requirements of new province establishment.
Paraparatv News broadcast a question from one of the Lapago figures, Briyur Wenda, who said that they supported the plan to split Papua province into several new ones and he in particular suggested making one new province covering the 10 regencies in the Lapago Customary Territory.
Earlier on Feb. 5, university students hailing from Meepago Customary Territory who studied in Surabaya, East Java, made a statement rejecting the establishment of new provinces. Meepago consists of Nabire, Paniai, Dogiyai, Deiyai, Mimika, and Intan Jaya.
The head of the Executive Body of Association of Students from Nabire, Paniai, Dogiyai, Deiyai in Surabaya, Stefanus Ukago, and the head of Association of Moni Students in East Java, Dominikus Sani, told Jubi that they rejected the plan to form new provinces in Papua province.
They warned "local political elites" in the Meepago area not to claim to represent Papuan people and requesting new provinces.
The idea to establish new provinces in Papua began to surface following a meeting between President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and 61 Papuan figures in the presidential palace. The meeting was arranged by some political elites in Jakarta in September 2019 in response to the racially charged incident in the Papuan student dorm in Surabaya.