Terrorism likely behind avian flu outbreak: BIN chief
Bagus BT Saragih and Agnes Winarti
The Jakarta Post
Fretting that terrorists might one day unleash bioweapons in Indonesia, the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) says it will monitor the recent outbreak of a new strain of avian influenza in Indonesia.
BIN chief Lt. Gen. Marciano Norman said on Thursday that the agency was on alert and would continue to monitor the spread of the new strain, identified as H5N1 clade 2.3.2, which has re-portedly been behind the deaths of tens of thousands of ducks in the nation.
“My agency has been closely watching this phenomenon since the beginning,” Marciano told reporters at the State Palace on Thursday. “We have to stay alert, as the global development of biological weapons is very fast.”
“In the future, this kind of biological attack will be frequently used in wars,” Marciano said, although he was quick to quell speculation that the new strain was a biological attack.
“We are closely monitoring developments. We can’t jump to conclusions without strong evidence,” Marciano added. “We are asking relevant agencies to look into the new strain of the virus more closely, and we will support their efforts.
Also speaking to reporters at the palace, Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto said that several government agencies were investigating the new strain.
“Since we learned about the suspicion, we have formed a team to look into it. The team comprises the BIN and the Health Ministry, among others,” he said.
Djoko said that there were possibilities that the new strain of the virus had been “engineered” for certain parties. “The suspicion is good for us, because we can stay vigilant about any possible threats.”
Following the deaths of thousands of ducks over the past few months, regions across the country have taken measures to stop the spread of the new strain.
The new strain has killed more than 1,000 ducks in Bantul alone, while reportedly killing tens of thousands more in Yogyakarta, Central Java and in East Java.
In Tulungagung, East Java, for example, thousands of chickens have recently died from the new strain, which was thought to have been limited to ducks.
“The symptoms are very similar to those of the bird flu. We have taken precautionary measures by incinerating sick birds,” said Trimo, a farmer said as quoted by Antara news agency.
On Thursday, public health officials in Pati, Central Java, confirmed that hundreds of birds in the area recently died from bird flu.
“Based on our investigation on the samples taken from the dead birds, we found that they died from AI, [avian influenza]” Pati Health Agency chief Niken Trimeiningrum said.
The government has called on local administrations to take measures to prevent a pandemic.
In Central Java, administration officials said that the new strain had killed 200,000 ducks in 28 regencies and municipalities in the province since September, while over 6,000 ducks were reportedly infected with the virus in Lampung.
In Payakumbuh, West Sumatra, known as the province’s main production center for poultry products, the virus killed nearly 2,000 ducks in December, while in Sidenreng Rappang, South Sula-wesi, some 25,000 birds reportedly died from the virus in the same month.
In Bali, officials at the province’s animal quarantine centers said they were tightening measures to block the delivery of poultry from outside of the island through Gilimanuk Port.
“Right now, live ducks and frozen duck meat are not recommended to pass through the port and we are required to spray additional disinfectants to vehicles with transport poultry,” Ida Bagus Eka Ludra Manuaba, the head of the monitoring division at the Gilimanuk Animal Quarantine Center, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
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