Indonesian Leader Visits Papua Months after Region’s Deadly Measles Outbreak
By Victor Mambor
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited his country’s easternmost Papua province on Thursday, two months after a measles-and-malnutrition outbreak killed more than 70 children in the area that is home to one of the world’s biggest gold mines.
Accompanied by first lady Iriana, Jokowi arrived at Agats port in Asmat on a military helicopter, becoming Indonesia’s first leader to visit the impoverished regency.
During a meeting with local officials, Jokowi expressed his concerns about the threat of malnutrition among children.
“I urge the regent to prioritize the government’s attention on malnutrition issues among children,” Jokowi said, referring to Asmat Regent Elisa Kambu.
After news of the measles outbreak spread early this year, Widodo ordered the military and medical teams to bring supplies to remote areas of the regency.
In February, health officials said the crisis had been placed under control after paramedics vaccinated more than 17,000 children.
During his visit Thursday, Jokowi said all water reservoir projects for residents would be completed by the end of August.
Papua, a former Dutch colony that was absorbed into Indonesia in 1969 after a controversial referendum, is where the U.S.-based mining giant Freeport-McMoran operates the Grasberg gold and copper mining complex.
Foreign media access is restricted in Papua and West Papua, Indonesia’s two easternmost provinces, which make up about one-fifth of Indonesia’s land mass.
The region is one of Indonesia’s poorest, with low literacy rates and high rates of infant and maternal mortality.
It was Jokowi’s eighth trip to Papua since taking office in 2014. He was accompanied by his public housing and health ministers during the visit that included an inspection of a public housing complex under construction in Asmat.
Jokowi talked about nutrition with a number of local women and children and was seen riding an electric motorcycle with his wife.
Before arriving in Asmat, Jokowi also visited Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, where he checked the progress on the construction of a bridge and handed out land certificates to residents.
Human rights complaints
During the past decades, the Papua region has been the site of a low-level armed separatist movement, the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), against Jakarta’s rule. The OPM and Indonesian security forces are both guilty of human rights abuses, according to rights groups.
Recent images of thin children with exposed ribs at ill-equipped hospitals has led to criticisms that the region’s wealth is not being evenly shared with its ethnic population.
Jokowi’s frequent Papua visits underscores his failure to fulfilling his pledge to resolve the human rights violations in the insurgency-hit eastern province, local human rights activists told BenarNews on Thursday.
“If Jokowi keeps neglecting the efforts to solve the cases, his commitment in developing Papua will face a great distrust by Papuans,” said Frits Ramandey, head of Papua office of the National Commission of Human Rights.