November 11, 2015 / 2:26 PM / in 2 years

No foreign media curbs in Papua, says Indonesia's security chief

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia has no travel restrictions on foreign journalists in its easternmost province of Papua, the country’s security chief said on Wednesday, vowing to dismiss any police officials who blocked such freedom.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo waits for Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the presidential palace in Jakarta November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

The comments, which reflect an apparent delay in implementing President Joko Widodo’s six-month-old decision to scrap the curbs in politically-sensitive Papua, came the same day that a human rights body queried why they still persist.

On a visit to the remote province, Widodo said foreign journalists no longer needed special permission to travel there, a requirement imposed decades ago because of a long-simmering secessionist movement.

“I don’t see any restrictions anymore,” Indonesia’s security chief, Luhut Panjaitan, told reporters on Wednesday, when asked about the media curbs. “I need someone to call me if there is a problem - I’ll fix the problem.”

Asked why the national police still required all foreign journalists to apply for a travel permit for Papua, he responded, “If it is necessary we can fire them”.

In a report published on Wednesday, titled “Something to Hide?”, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch questioned why the media restrictions still remain in place.

Widodo needs to issue a written directive, said Phelim Kine, the group’s deputy Asia director, adding that journalists seeking travel permits still faced intense opposition from officials.

Soon after Widodo’s announcement of the removal of the restrictions, senior government and security officials had maintained that foreign journalists would still need permission and permits to visit the area.

Last year, two French journalists convicted of misusing their tourist visas to work as journalists in Papua spent 11 weeks in detention before being sent home.

Papua, which is home to one of the biggest copper mines operated by U.S. mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, was incorporated into Indonesia under a widely criticized U.N.-backed vote in 1969, after Jakarta took over the area in 1963 at the end of Dutch colonial rule.

Following decades of neglect, Widodo is looking to open up the impoverished region, which has a history of clashes between security forces and the insurgents.

Reporting by Randy Fabi and Michael Taylor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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