Indonesia passes controversial law to create additional provinces in Papua

The easternmost region of the Southeast Asian country, currently divided between Papua and West Papua, will now be divided into five provinces with the addition of South Papua, Central Papua and High Papua.

The government claims the decision will help stimulate development, improve public service delivery and create more opportunities for Papuans to become public servants in a resource-rich area that remains one of the country’s poorest regions.

Tito Karnavian, Indonesia’s interior minister, said after the vote that the main purpose of the law is to “accelerate the development of Papua to improve the welfare of the people in Papua, especially the native Papuans.”

But the plan sparked protests in Papua, which has seen a low-key independence conflict since a controversial 1969 UN-monitored vote brought Papua under Indonesian control.

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Critics fear it could take more energy from the area, which has some of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits.

“By cutting Papua into smaller administrative units, Jakarta hopes to divide and defeat Papuan identity and resistance,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer with Amnesty International Australia, who sees an increased risk of militarization and violent clashes.

In an interview with Reuters in April, the head of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), Timothius Murib, said the law would lead to an influx of non-indigenous Papuans into new government posts and was introduced without sufficient consultation, a charge the government denies.

Changes to Papua’s special autonomy law last year allowed the central government to create new provinces, prompting the MRP to claim the change undermines autonomy and file a judicial review in the constitutional court.

Indonesia’s interior ministry said the government would abide by the court’s decision.