A controversial article published by the Australian news outlet ‘The Saturday Paper’ alleges that Indonesian troops may have used chemical weapons during an ongoing military operation in the remote highland regency of Nduga. A local group of the ‘West Papua National Liberation Army’ killed at least 17 construction workers on 2 December 2018. The Indonesian army launched a widespread military offensive on 4 December 2018, in an attempt to trace down and prosecute the perpetrators. Eyewitnesses claimed that the infantry was backed up by four helicopters. One helicopter allegedly dropped seven explosives, while the other three helicopters fired large caliber machine guns at various targets, including several villages. It is unclear which types of explosives were used. Eyewitnesses claimed that the projectiles exploded in the sky and subsequently produced a dense smoke.
The Australian journalists John Martinkus and Mark Davis had received images of victims and weapon shells from local sources in the Nduga regency (see article images on top, right, bottom) and shared the photographs with a military expert. According to the weapon expert, the projectiles and characteristics of the wounds indicate the use incendiary or white phosphorus – a chemical weapon prohibited for use against civilian populations under the international convention on certain conventional weapons. White phosphorus causes deep burns that reach the bone when it touches human skin. Military forces commonly use it as a smokescreen or to mark targets, but it can also be used as an incendiary weapon and a chemical weapon.
The Military command spokesman Colonel Muhammad Aidi denied the use of bombs and white phosphorus in public interviews. The Coordinating Mister for Political Law and Security Affairs, General Wiranto stating that bombs were too expensive and that the issue had been fabricated by the TPN-PB to make black propaganda against the Indonesian Government. According to ‘The Guardian’, the Indonesian ministry for foreign affairs gave the following response to the ‘Saturday Paper’ article “The allegation highlighted by the said media is totally baseless, non-factual, and gravely misleading […] Indonesia possesses no chemical weapons.”