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Indonesia denies white phosphorus use in West Papua

The Indonesian government has denied its military used white phosphorus in West Papua, following a report published in an Australian paper detailing the unverified use of the chemical weapon against civilians this month. 

According to the paper the attack occurred in the region of Nduga in West Papua. Photographic evidence published shows a villager with severe burns and a wounded leg, which has been attributed to use of white phosphorus. 

Reporters, John Martinkus and Mark Davis assert that they had solid evidence of the attack and accuse the government of dissembling and avoiding accountability.

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White phosphorous is a highly toxic chemical which burns when in contact with oxygen, causing deep burns which reach to the bone. Under international law, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, it is prohibited against civilian populations but it also creates a useful smokescreen hence it is not fully banned.

A spokesperson for the Free West Papua movement asserted a need for an independent investigation into the incident. “There needs to be a UN Fact-Finding Mission to immediately visit West Papua to assess first-hand what is happening on the ground," the spokesperson tweeted. 

The Indonesian government has denied the allegations, with the foreign affairs ministry stating on twitter that the allegation is “totally baseless, non-factual, and gravely misleading”. The ministry denies possessing chemical weapons and asserts that this report distracted from “the murder of 19 innocent civilians on 2 December 2018 by armed separatist groups in Nduga, Papua”. They further claimed the military had been working in the region to recover bodies after construction workers were killed in Nduga.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's spokesperson stated that it condemns “affecting civilians and authorities alike”. Australia would “continue to monitor the situation, including through our diplomatic missions in Indonesia," he added. 

In 1969 Indonesia formalised its control over West Papua as its military directly chose 1,026 West Papuans and forced them into voting in favour of Indonesian annexation under a UN-supervised, but undemocratic, process known as the Act of Free Choice. Since then political control of the region has been contested and Indonesia has been often criticised of human rights violations against separatists.