World News

Indonesia stops U.S. congressman from going to Papua

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia has barred a U.S. congressman who has been a critic of Jakarta’s policies in Papua from visiting the area, but has denied the move is to cover up alleged human rights abuses in the remote region.

Eni Faleomavaega, the Democrat congressman for American Samoa, has previously pushed for the U.S. government to review its recognition of Papua as part of Indonesia.

“We need to know first what he is looking for,” Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters on Tuesday.

“If he wants to meet the local government, we can certainly help to arrange it here in Jakarta during his short stay,” added Wirajuda. The congressman was due to arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday, according to media reports.

Papuan independence activists have waged a campaign for more than 30 years to break away from Indonesia, and a low-level armed rebellion has also simmered for decades.

“With or without his visit everyone can now access information on recent developments in Indonesia, including Papua,” Wirajuda said.

“Our embassy in Washington and parliament members have been in consultation (with U.S. lawmakers),” he added.

Papua, two provinces on the west half of New Guinea island, has long been under the scrutiny of Western groups critical of how Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, treats the mainly Christian and ethnically distinct area.

A foreign ministry official, Eddhi Hariyadhi, was quoted in the Jakarta Post newspaper as saying it was not the right time for Faleomavaega to go to Papua because it could provoke violence.

Last month a visit by U.N. envoy Hina Jilani was greeted by protests in several cities over alleged rights abuses.

Indonesia has denied any systematic violations in Papua, although human rights groups have alleged security services in the area have routinely abused their powers.

Jakarta also restricts access to Papua for journalists, diplomats and human rights organizations.

Indonesia took over Papua from Dutch colonial rule in 1963. In 1969 its rule was formalized in a vote by community leaders which was widely criticized as political theatre.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he wants to end conflict and speed up development in Papua, which has rich mineral and natural resources.