Indonesia parliament passes revised autonomy law for restive Papua

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's parliament ratified on Thursday (July 15) a new autonomy law for Papua aimed at boosting development in its poorest region, sparking protests from activists who warned it would increase Jakarta's grip on the resource-rich area.

The Papua special autonomy bill, which revised 20 articles from a pre-existing 2001 law, relates to Indonesia's easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, where a low-level insurgency for independence has simmered for decades.

The new law will boost a special autonomy fund for the region, ensure affirmative action for indigenous Papuans in local politics, boost healthcare and education and funnel more proceeds from oil and gas, said Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian.

"We hope that this law will accelerate development in Papua and see Papuans prosper," he told parliament after the bill was ratified.

Indonesia says the region is part of its territory after a United Nations supervised vote in 1969 that involved about 1,025 people.

Separatists say the vote, known as the Act of Free Choice, did not reflect their aspirations.

Markus Haluk, of the United Liberation Front for West Papua said his group strongly rejected the revised law, describing it as an extension of "racist colonial rule".

"The democratic solution for West Papua is that the government of Indonesia provide a choice to Papuans to determine their right to self-determination," he said in a statement.

Police on Wednesday arrested 23 students demonstrating against the law in the provincial capital of Jayapura, while another 40 were arrested in Jakarta on Thursday, according to Papuan groups.

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the revised law, known as Otsus, was pushed through without enough consultation with key groups in the region, including the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), which was a product of the earlier 2001 law.

"Jakarta has been discussing Otsus by ignoring Otsus itself. It's clear Otsus is a product for Jakarta, by Jakarta," said Koman.