The Jakarta Post
The Indonesian Military (TNI) has finished a major part of an initial project to construct the 4,325 kilometer trans-Papua highway in the country's easternmost region.
TNI spokesman Col. Berlin Germany said on Monday that the Army's Engineering Directorate (Zeni) had been opening up areas to construct a 278.6-kilometer road that would link Wamena in Jayawijaya regency to Mumugu in Asmat regency.
The military has been assigned to help the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry to start the government's grand road project by clearing land, in which the ministry and state-run construction firm PT Wijaya Karya (WIKA) are on duty to apply asphalt for the road's construction.
The engineering battalion has deployed 394 officers, including from its combat engineering detachment (Denzipur), Engineering Construction Battalion (Yon Zikon), with a target of assisting 278.6 kilometers of the road's construction by the end of year.
As of December last year, they have completed 169 kilometers. 'We target to finish the work by 2018,' Berlin said, as he went on to say that the 278,6-kilometer project would pass through 40 rivers, 32 of which had yet to have bridges.
In addition to the road project, the military also plan to build two piers in Mumugu and Batas Batu, which can accommodate ships with a capacity of 300 tons and 150 tons, respectively.
'[The piers] are expected to open access to Wamena, Mbua, Paro, Batas Batu and Mumugu toward the southern coast of Papua, thus improving the Papuans' welfare,' Berlin said.
The road project, estimated to cost Rp 1.5 trillion (US$154 million), is part of the Presidential Unit to Accelerate the Development of Papua and West Papua (UP4B). Most of the roads will be constructed in alpine, swamp and jungle areas, is expected to open up the provinces from isolation that has long hampered its development.
The TNI's involvement aims to speed up the process at a relatively low cost, as it had been estimated that using the TNI would be 80 percent cheaper than private contractors.
Berlin said in doing the work, the army faced no significant obstacles with local communities, adding that the locals were welcoming because they knew the road's benefits.
Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Adriana Elisabeth said there was no need to question the TNI's capability in construction, but which military branch being assigned to the project was a more pressing matter. 'Papuans are still sensitive to the presence of military and police due to their pasca-conflict trauma,' Adriana said, adding that the locals were usually more sensitive to Army Special Forces (Kopassus).
Thus, she said, the military should communicate effectively with the locals or else there would be resistance to the project.
'Although the project has good aims, it doesn't mean the locals will accept it just like that. There should be a difference in treating people here than in Java, for example. If there is resistance when the project finishes, there will be many objections, such as protests, from locals,' Adriana said.
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