TNI Road Construction Project in Papua Raises Eyebrows

JAKARTA - The government’s ambitious plan to deploy the Indonesian Military (TNI) to build 1,500 kilometer-long roads connecting Papua and West Papua in less than a year could escalate violence in the country’s easternmost provinces, which could lead members of the House of Representatives to reject a funding proposal for the massive project.

Members of the House’s Commission I overseeing defense and foreign affairs expressed their concerns over the urgency to involve members of the TNI’s combat engineering detachment (Denzipur) in the program to Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, saying the deployment could impact on ongoing efforts to maintain security in both provinces.

“We are talking about Papua here. We can’t underestimate this area,” lawmaker Tri Tamtomo from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said in a hearing with Purnomo on Monday.

Tri said that since the project would only last for 3.5 months, it would require a massive deployment of military personnel, which could be seen as a heightened threat aimed at separatist groups in the region.

Commission I deputy chairman Tubagus Hasanuddin of the PDI-P faction further questioned Purnomo on whether the construction project, which is part of actions aimed at accelerating development in Papua and West Papua, could be seen as a maneuver to corner the Free Papua Movement (OPM) in the provinces.

The House decided to have a closed-door meeting with Purnomo soon after Tubagus fielded the question.

Speaking after the conclusion of the meeting, Purnomo maintained that the road construction projects would not interfere with the governments’ efforts to curb the OPM.

“The TNI is appointed to carry out the plan due to geographical and security reasons, in addition to the short time available [to get it done],” Purnomo said.

“We can start working in early September and finish the construction by the end of this year if the House agrees to our proposal,” he said.

The Presidential Decree No. 40/2013 on the acceleration of development in Papua appointed the TNI to help the Presidential Unit to Accelerate the Development of Papua and West Papua (UP4B) to build roads in both provinces, clearing the way for more than 1,000 soldiers from the Army’s engineering detachment to become involved in the work.

The UP4B earlier said the infrastructure project would open the isolated provinces at a cost of Rp 1.5 trillion (US$154 million) with the help of the Public Works Ministry and local administrations.

In the Monday meeting with Commission I, Purnomo asked for additional funds of Rp 425.5 billion to pay for supplies and salaries for soldiers dispatched to join the massive construction projects.

The new proposal surprised the House members.

Commission I chairman Mahfudz Siddiq from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) said the House would study the feasibility of the project given the high security risk in the area.

“My assessment for the time being is that the [road construction] plan will unlikely materialize anytime soon. Nonetheless, we will summon other relevant parties, including the Army and the UP4B next week to comprehensively assess the possible threat that could emerge if the construction finally takes place. We don’t want the road construction plan to provoke more problems [in Papua and West Papua],” Mahfudz said. [TheJakartaPost]
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