Indonesia is imposing restrictions on foreigners visiting its restive Papua region, the government said Tuesday after four Australians were deported over claims they took part in independence protests.
Papua, where a low-level insurgency against Indonesian control has simmered for decades, has seen two weeks of mass protests and deadly riots sparked by anger over racism and fresh calls for self-rule.
On Tuesday, Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto said the country would limit foreigners entering its easternmost territory — which has popular beach destinations — over safety concerns and to weed out suspected agitators.
“We’ll temporarily limit (access to Papua),” the minister, who goes by one name, told reporters in Jakarta.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t allow anyone in. There will be filters based on security and safety issues,” he added, without elaborating.
It was unclear whether the new restrictions would prevent foreign journalists from going to a region subject to a government-ordered Internet shutdown since the unrest broke out — a policy slammed by media and free-speech advocates.
“This is to protect foreigners from becoming victims of the riots,” Wiranto said.
“It’s difficult to distinguish between foreigners who are there to provoke and interfere from those who went as tourists,” he added.
Wiranto also dismissed accusations that the government was dragging its feet on probing claims security forces committed human rights violations, amid unconfirmed reports that the military shot dead six protesters last week.
He reiterated Jakarta’s position that it was not open to talking about Papuan independence.
“The door is closed on dialogue about a referendum,” Wiranto said.
Indonesia took control of Papua, a former Dutch colony on the island of New Guinea, in the 1960s after an independence vote that was widely seen as being rigged.
On Monday, Indonesia said it was deporting four Australians who had entered Papua — which shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea — on a yacht last month.
The group allegedly participated in a demonstration and raised the banned “Morning Star” flag, a symbol of Papuan nationhood.
Indonesian authorities have arrested dozens for taking part in protests and banned demonstrations that could lead to what it described as “anarchist acts”.
The recent unrest appears to have been triggered by the mid-August arrest of dozens of Papuan students in Java, who were also racially abused.
Indonesia is deeply sensitive about Papua. In May, a Polish man was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting with rebels to overthrow the government in the province.