Indonesia's forgotten province

People of Papua feel growing disenchantment with Jakarta government.


    Culturally distinct Papua is rich in resources but home to some of the country's poorest people

    The governor of the remote Indonesian province of Papua is warning that the region could revive its push for independence.


    Barnabas Suebu has told Al Jazeera that the central government in Jakarta must act quickly to improve conditions in the province.


    With an area of almost half a million square kilometres, Papua has some of the richest natural resources in the world, but its people are among Indonesia's poorest.


    Many Papuans feel abandoned by
    the Indonesian government
    Travelling with the governor to the remote village of Kokanao, we saw how bad the situation had become.


    There is no road, no electricity and not enough water. Most of the villagers here die young.


    Karismus, a retired village head, shares his house with four families – 18 people in total.


    He says he was promised a new house many years ago, but it never came.


    He has long lost hope in the Indonesian authorities.


    "Now the governor has come he can finally see how we are paralysed," Karismus says.


    "How we are suffering here, how we all have become like blind people, I really hope he sees that."


    The province of Papua makes up most of the western part of the island of New Guinea.


    'Free Choice'


    Governor Suebu (right) says Papuans need
    to see the fruits of Papua's natural wealth 
    Once under Dutch control, it became part of Indonesia in 1969 under the so-called "Act of Free Choice" - a controversial process which many in the province still dispute.


    Angry that the Papuan people weren't seeing any benefit from the province's natural resources, the Free Papua independence movement took up arms to demand a greater share of the province's wealth.


    In a bid to end the unrest, six years ago the Indonesian government gave the province limited autonomy.


    But discontent is building once again and it won’t be easy to win over the Papuan people.


    Touring the province by helicopter, Governor Suebu is handing out $10,000 to every village


    The idea is to ensure the money goes directly to the people in need, rather than disappearing into the pockets of bureaucrats.


    Suebu says handouts are needed to keep the people of the province on side.


    Otherwise, he says, calls for independence will grow.


    Justice and welfare


    Some Papuans say the governor's
    efforts are too little, to late
    "The situation in Papua has to change," Suebu says.


    "It's very ironic that people are poor on top of so much wealth. That’s why people are screaming for independence. The key solution is justice and welfare for the people."


    Papua is the forgotten part of Indonesia. For nearly 40 years the Papuans have been left behind.


    Now hopes are high that finally someone will listen. But the question remains if this is going to be enough to convince the Papuans that they are part of Indonesia.


    The independence movement has given up its armed struggle but in their hearts many Papuans still want their own state.


    Human rights campaigner Mama Yosepha, who is skeptical about the governors mission.


    "It's all too little too late," she tells us. "We have the right to have our own state, the right to have our freedom."


    The governor is unlikely to win this fight alone.


    Until the government in Jakarta changes its approach to Papua – many people in the province will remain reluctant citizens of Indonesia.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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