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INDONESIA has been accused of using chemical weapons against indigenous people and mass human rights abuses as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in West Papua, the western half of the vast island of New Guinea which the province shares with the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
Thousands are believed to have fled since a bombing campaign by the Indonesian air force started in December in a brutal crackdown on the West Papuan independence movement. Peaceful activists were charged with treason and attacks were mounted on the offices of pro-independence groups.
Now local media have reported that at least three children have starved to death in the past week.
And it is alleged that four villages in the Nduga regency were bombed by Indonesian fighter jets, with white phosphorus — a chemical banned by international law — used in the attacks.
West Papuan groups have demanded an end to the aggression by the Indonesian military and for UN investigations into the use of chemical weapons against a civilian population.
On the ground, troops have moved in. Local media have reported that at least 20 people have been killed by artillery fire with the army sealing off the area, preventing access by journalists and humanitarian organisations.
Many claim that the 1969 Act of Free Choice, in which West Papua was annexed by Indonesia, was an act of historical injustice and campaign for the international community to help resolve the legitimate political grievances of West Papuans.
Indonesia has dismissed the claims as “fake news.” Jakarta’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dian Triansyah Djani, warned that “Indonesia will not let any country undermine its territorial integrity.”
West Papuan groups have warned that the developing situation is a humanitarian crisis, calling on the UN to provide urgent assistance and investigate the actions of the Indonesian military.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), an umbrella organisation of independence groups, has documented eyewitness accounts of atrocities including the chemical attack and indiscriminate shooting of civilians.
ULMWP chair Benny Wenda said: “Indonesia is violating international law. The use of chemical burn-causing weapons is illegal. Indonesia is flouting these treaties in its acts of extreme violence.
“When chemical weapons are used in Syria, the world is horrified.
“But in West Papua the Indonesian government is able to cover up its crimes by stopping any independent organisations from entering the country and then launch brutal military operations afterwards.
“This episode is more evidence of the desperate need for West Papua to have freedom from the colonial occupation of the Indonesian state.”
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