UN urges inquiry into claims police forced refugees on to doomed boat
25 October 2001

Agence France Presse via NewsEdge Corporation : ATTENTION - ADDS survivors' accounts, demonstration

JAKARTA, Oct 25 (AFP) - A senior UN official Thursday urged Indonesia to investigate claims that police forced asylum-seekers on to a boat which sank killing some 350 people, as police said "rogue" officers may be in cahoots with people-smugglers.

Top police commanders, who have dispatched a team of detectives to get to the bottom of the story, told AFP "rogue" police and immigration officials may be being paid by people-smuggling syndicates to help them.

Chief of detectives at national police headquarters, Inspector General Engkesman Hillep, said it was "possible that some police are bribed by people smugglers. The syndicates have a lot of money."

"But not the police as an institution, just rogue police officers," he said in an interview. "It is suspected that some police take money."

Another senior police commander, in the same interview, said members of other authorities may also be taking bribes.

"Not just the police, other forces too, like the navy, or immigration officials," said the head of the Special Crimes Unit, Brigadier General Suharto (eds: one name).

The overloaded and flimsy boat, carrying mainly Iraqis, sank last Friday in the Java Sea en route to Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Only 44 people were saved.

Survivors say armed Indonesian police herded some asylum-seekers at gunpoint on board the rotting boat after they were unwilling to board it in the Sumatra port of Lampung for safety reasons.

Iraqi national Sadeq Razaq, 26, who saved his two-year-old daughter but lost his wife and cousin, said about 20 uniformed men, some armed, threatened to shoot them if they did not board the vessel.

"When we got on the ship there were uniformed people with guns. They were helping the smugglers to take people on board," he told AFP in a hostel south of Jakarta where he has been accommodated.

"We understood that the ship is dangerous. The uniformed people pushed us to get on the ship. We could not get back (to the land)...the uniformed people said 'If you come back we will shoot you'."

Other survivors told similar stories.

"We asked to go back but they said it was not allowed," said Ali Hameed Ahmad, 28, an Iraqi Kurd, who said police hit two people to stop them getting off.

He said the man organizing the smuggling operation was an Egyptian national, Abu Quassey.

Another Iraqi national Kareem-Jabar, 25, told Australia's Sydney Morning Herald that Abu Quassey, pistol-whipped one man who tried to disembark with his family before the ill-fated voyage began.

Raymond Hall, regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the allegations of police collusion with people-smugglers reinforced the need for an inquiry into the disaster.

He told AFP a "full and transparent inquiry" should also consider how "an atrociously overloaded boat" could set sail.

"It is difficult to believe the boat with so many on board could sail without some knowledge at the local level."

Hall also said an inquiry should consider "how smugglers are apparently allowed to operate with such ease."

Defence Minister Matori Abdul Jalil said the claims would be investigated by the office for political and security affairs.

"If it truly happened, we have to take action against the personnel that are handling this case," he said.

Police have dispatched an eight-man team of detectives to Lampung to investigate the claims.

Hillep said police were also trying to track down Quassey and four other people, of Iraqi nationality, believed to be organisers of the doomed voyage.

"We have four names, as well as Quassey, but we're sure there are more people involved," he said.

Agence France Presse - 10-25-01

found at: http://www.unhcr.ch/

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