RPT: Evidence Shows US Pursuing Biological Research in Indonesia Despite Lab Ban

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News/Sputnik – May 27, 2022) After Russia launched an investigation into US biological research in Ukraine, similar suspicions were raised in other parts of the world, including Indonesia, what former US Ambassador Cameron Hume once described. as a “reservoir of emerging infectious diseases”.

Indonesian news outlet Detik reported in April on a covert US operation to collect human blood and samples from rabid dogs during the Pacific Partnership 2016 exercise in the West Sumatra coastal city of Padang. .

Documents obtained by reporters suggest that US Navy surgeons operated on local patients aboard the USNS Mercy hospital ship and transported three rabid dogs from West Sumatra, all without permission from the Indonesian Ministry of Health. health. Padang health officials also told Detik that the Americans wanted to collect dengue virus samples from local mosquitoes.

The story brought back memories of NAMRU 2, a US Navy biological laboratory that the United States ran in a bustling area of ​​the capital Jakarta from 1970 to 2009, when it was banned by the Ministry of Health for being “a threat to the sovereignty of Indonesia”.

NAMRU 2 was created in the midst of an outbreak of bubonic plague in Indonesia and treated a wide range of pathogens, from HIV to those that cause malaria, tuberculosis and dengue fever. But Siti Fadilah Supari, a cardiologist who served as health minister from 2004 to 2009, told Sputnik that US aid to beat the diseases was minimal.

“Although they focused on malaria and tuberculosis, the results for 40 years in Indonesia were not significant,” she said.

The US-Indonesia agreement on the lab ended in 1980 and “after that they were stateless”, Supari added.

But it wasn’t just poor lab performance that really worried Supari about the facility.

“I only knew that their lab was very closed. And the researchers were US Marines, all of whom had diplomatic immunity… We never found out what they were carrying in their diplomatic briefcases. There was also Indonesian researchers who were helping them,” she added. explained to Sputnik.

At the time, the ex-minister was also concerned about the lack of equal involvement of Indonesian personnel in the project and, most importantly, the possibility of US diplomats smuggling infectious samples from Indonesia to the United States. United to use them for military research purposes.

Supari wrote in her best-selling book, ‘It’s Time for the World to Change’, that following the Avian Influenza (H5N1) outbreak, she opposed the mandatory practice of sharing virus samples. local authorities with WHO-related authorities, which, in his view, was neither transparent nor fair.

As a WHO Collaborating Center, NAMRU 2 diagnosed a batch of H5N1 cases in Indonesia in 2006. The Indonesian government instructed Americans to submit samples only to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) affiliated with the WHO.

But multiple publications showed the CDC shared the samples with a sequence database at Los Alamos National Laboratory, known for designing the world’s first nuclear bomb. This has angered Indonesians and raised fears that the infectious disease is being weaponised.

As minister, Supari paid a surprise visit to NAMRU 2 in 2008 and spoke to the press about the lab’s lack of transparency and not sharing the results of its work with the Indonesian government.

Henry, a reporter for a major Indonesian media outlet, told Sputnik that when this story was making headlines across the country, NAMRU 2 nearly burned down.

Henry said he went to cover fire. He saw two foreign-looking men amid the chaos, preventing reporters from entering the compound.

“It looked like the fire was in the administrative part of NAMRU, where all the documents are kept. I did not pay much attention to this fact at the time, but in hindsight it may seem almost like someone wanted to hide something,” he said.

Indonesia’s scrutiny of NAMRU 2 has also ruffled Washington. A leak of thousands of US diplomatic cables by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website in 2010 revealed that the US Embassy in Jakarta had sent hundreds of updates on NAMRU and its efforts to salvage its reputation.

The diplomatic mission and the NAMRU administration launched “an offensive against disinformation” in 2008 by organizing a press conference on the laboratory. However, a memo from US Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume to the State Department showed that the Americans ultimately concluded that “the best hope of keeping NAMRU-2 in Indonesia is to convince key policy makers of its usefulness. continues for both countries”.

Amid the struggle around the lab in 2009, Hume sent another sensitive but unclassified memo to Washington explaining the importance of continuing biological research in Indonesia.

“Indonesia is…a reservoir of emerging infectious diseases, many of which are of international concern. With densely populated communities living in close contact with livestock and new colonies encroaching on wildlife reservoirs, the Indonesia creates ideal opportunities for the emergence of new infectious diseases,” he wrote. .

Supari’s resistance became a big problem for the United States. She was mentioned personally in most NAMRU-related memos. On June 12, 2009, US diplomats suggested that DC step in to help manage it by deepening health cooperation with Indonesia.

“If managed properly, Supari could accept NAMRU if assured of our genuine interest in developing a new research lab model (larger and more comprehensive than NAMRU), then it could be useful for visa extensions for the NAMRU staff so that negotiations on the broader engagement can begin,” the memo reads.

Despite this, Supari managed to shut down NAMRU 2 with the support of Indonesia’s top diplomats and military. She left the office in 2009. Her successor, Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, reportedly had ties to NAMRU 2 in the past but chose not to allow the lab to officially resume research in Jakarta.

But Supari says she thinks American biological research is still going on on Indonesian soil.

“I cannot prove it, but from what I have read and heard, research activities are going on in various forms of collaboration with research institutes and universities in Indonesia. I think the government should be aware of it,” she said.

The United States has never admitted that its navy broke any laws during the 2016 naval exercise in Padang. However, Henry, who traveled to USNS Mercy in 2005 when he himself nearly drowned in a flood in Pulau Nias, North Sumatra province, said he was told asked for help finding patients for US Navy surgeons to operate on.

“They brought most of their patients on board a hospital in Gunung Sitoli, the capital of Pulau Nias regency, where they were screened, but not all of them. The officer asked me if I could help find more patients for simple operations… So I went to a nearby village to ask if anyone else needed help and the Americans deployed their Sikorski SH-60 Seahawk helicopters to pick them up to the village, bringing them straight to the ship,” he said.

The Detik investigation found US Marines were more selective of Indonesian patients in 2016, with all applicants undergoing a medical examination at a hospital in Penang. Reporters cited sources who said the Americans were still violating local laws, particularly on the transfer of pathogens.

Journalists said they were investigating possible new violations of the country’s health laws by the US Navy in Indonesia during the Pacific Partnership 2018 exercise in Bengkulu province, but so far they have not found no evidence.

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