Police commander admits officers may be bribed

25 October 2001

A senior Indonesian police commander said today that it was possible that "rogue" police officers took bribes from people smugglers.

"It is possible that some police are bribed by people smugglers. The syndicates have a lot of money," chief of detectives at national police headquarters, Inspector General Engkesman Hillep, told AFP.

"But not the police as an institution, just rogue police officers," he said, in response to allegations that police forced Australia-bound asylum-seekers onto a boat which sank last Friday, killing some 350 people.

But Indonesia's police chief today denied allegations that officers forced asylum seekers onto an unseaworthy boat that sank, leaving 374 people dead.

General Suroyo Bimantoro told reporters before a weekly cabinet meeting that "it is not true" that about 30 policemen in the town of Lampung coerced the passengers onto the boat that was headed for Australia.

Senior UN officials in Indonesia yesterday called on the government to investigate allegations by the asylum seekers that police beat two off them and threatened to kill them if they did not get on the vessel last week.

Defence Minister Matori Abdul Djalil said that if it was true that police were involved in the case, then "stern measures must be taken".

Achmad Hussein Ali, an Iraqi, told The Associated Press on yesterday that police, armed with pistols and automatic weapons, made the 418 passengers board the boat even though several did not want to after seeing its poor condition.

"They said they were willing to kill us," he said, speaking through a translator. "The police even beat two refugees with their rifle butts."

Ali said that after boarding the 19metre wooden boat, it was escorted out of Indonesian waters by several police officers using their own vessel. The refugee boat sank on Friday after a water pump broke down.

Another survivor, Ali Ahmmad, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, said the police were working together with three people smugglers an Egyptian named Abu Quessain and two Iraqis who were also armed with guns.

In Australia yesterday, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the authorities have long suspected Quessain's involvement in people trafficking.

Indonesian police spokesman Brigadier General Saleh Saaf said he had not heard about Quessain, but would prosecute him if it was proven he was responsible. He said an investigation had been launched.

Other asylum seekers told The Associated Press earlier they were not coerced onto the boat.

UNHCR Indonesian representative Raymond Hall said Jakarta must carry out a "really serious investigation" into the refugees' allegations that they were forced to board the boat.

"If there was any complicity from the local authorities ... in actually forcing people to get on the vessel that would be a source of ... grave concern," he said.


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