Indonesia denies Papua chemical weapons attack

Indonesia has denied allegations in Australia’s Saturday Paper that illegal chemical weapons were used in a military operation in remote Nduga regency in Papua province, calling it “totally baseless, nonfactual and gravely misleading”.

The Indonesian foreign ministry said it “gravely deplores” irresponsible reporting in the provinces that are off-limits to the international media. 

Ethnic Papuans have called for an independent assessment by the international community to determine what weaponry had been used. 

The Free West Papua movement tweeted: “Where is the international outcry? There needs to be a UN fact-finding mission to immediately visit West Papua to assess first-hand what is happening on the ground.”

White phosphorus leaves victims with burns that cannot be extinguished. It was allegedly used in reprisal for the killing of between 19 and 31 road builders on December 2.

The military says it has just been trying to recover the bodies of the workers.

Australia, a key trading partner with Indonesia, condemned the violence but stopped short of demanding answers from Jakarta over the alleged use of outlawed white phosphorus. 

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman in Canberra said: “The Australian government condemns all violence in Papua, affecting civilians and authorities alike. We continue to monitor the situation, including through our diplomatic missions in Indonesia.”

Photographs allegedly showed burns to a man’s upper leg and buttocks. The Free West Papua distributed pictures of villagers holding unexploded yellow-topped shells. 

White phosphorus, which is highly toxic and burns in contact with oxygen, has been deemed as having no use other than to maim. 

The Saturday Paper account said: “The troops were going in, heavily armed and with full air support, to teach the West Papuans a lesson. They were going in to kill.” It said at least seven civilians died. 

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry replied that it was a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and had no prohibited agents, such as mustard gas and nerve agents.

Indonesia said the allegations “eclipsed the real issue at hand”: the killing of construction workers on December 2, allegedly by the West Papua Liberation Army. 

Papua governor Lukas Enembe called on President Joko Widodo to withdraw troops from Nduga so villagers could mark Christmas in peace.

“The presence of Indonesian army and police in Nduga caused trauma to the community, resulting in them fleeing to the forest,” he purportedly said last week, angering his bosses in Jakarta.

The home affairs ministry said Lukas had violated the constitution and the Regional Administration Law with his remarks.

The Indonesian-controlled Papua and West Papua provinces on the western half of New Guinea are ethnically Melanesian, like the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.



Nduga. Picture credit: Wikimedia