Indonesian authorities have angrily denied allegations of a white phosphorus attack on villagers in West Papua during a military operation this month.

The statement came after the Australian weekly the Saturday Paper published a photograph of a West Papuan villager with severe burns and a wounded leg and attributed the injuries to the use of white phosphorous.

Indonesia’s foreign affairs ministry said it “gravely deplores” what it dubbed irresponsible media reporting.

“The allegation highlighted by the said media is totally baseless, non-factual, and gravely misleading,” the ministry tweeted. “Indonesia possesses no chemical weapons.”

The Indonesian military maintains it had been trying to recover bodies after a group of road construction workers were killed in the remote region of Nduga.

The ministry said the report had overshadowed “the murder of 19 innocent civilians on 2 December 2018 by armed separatist groups in Nduga, Papua”.

Papua military command’s spokesman, Colonel Mumahammad Aidi, dismissed the newspaper’s report as fake news propaganda. He said helicopters couldn’t carry white phosphorus bombs.

“If the [military] was using phosphorous bombs, the Nduga district would have been wiped out,” he said in a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “All human beings and animals there would have been wiped out.”

The Free West Papua movement called for an urgent investigation. “Where is the international outcry?” a spokesman tweeted. “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 phosphorous is highly toxic and burns in contact with oxygen. When it touches human skin it can cause deep burns that reach the bone. It is often used by militaries as a smokescreen or to mark targets.

White phosphorus and other incendiary weapons are prohibited for use against civilian populations under the international convention on certain conventional weapons.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was aware of continuing reports of violence in Nduga, Papua, including unverified reports of the alleged use of phosphorous projectiles.

“The government condemns all violence in Papua, affecting civilians and authorities alike,” a spokesman said. “We will continue to monitor the situation, including through our diplomatic missions in Indonesia.”

https://www.theguardian .com/world/2018/dec/24/indonesia-denies-using-white-phosphorous-in-west-papua , 2018

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