Indonesian police arrested in boat tragedy
26 October 2001
'People traffickers' alleged to have been part of smuggling operation
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Two police officers have been arrested for allegedly participating in a people smuggling operation that resulted in 374 deaths when a refugee boat sank last week on its way to neighbouring Australia, police chief Gen. Suroyo Bimantoro said today.
The deaths have added to the frustration of hundreds of foreign asylum seekers and refugees who are waiting for resettlement from Indonesia to other countries.
Staff at the Jakarta office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees were evacuated when about 40 refugees protested and scuffled with security guards outside the building.
More than 400 people, mainly from the Middle East as well as south Asia, have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR, but have not yet been accepted by third countries.
Another 800 asylum seekers are still waiting for the UNHCR to process their applications for refugee status.
Officials say about 3,000 other illegal migrants, who have not sought help from the UNHCR, are in Indonesia trying to find boats to take them to neighbouring Australia, which has recently imposed tough new laws and measures to stop them.
The news that the two police officers have been arrested came two days after senior UN officials in Indonesia called for the government to investigate allegations by survivors that about 30 policemen threatened to kill them if they did not board the boat.
The officers were allegedly working with three people traffickers.
Originally, senior police, including Bimantoro denied any police were involved.
The boat, which was headed to Australia, sank on Friday last week after its bilge pump broke down and its leaky hull filled with water. Only 44 people survived by clinging to wreckage for about 20 hours before being rescued by fishing crews.
'They are now being questioned,' Bimantoro told reporters before meeting President Megawati Sukarnoputri. 'We are not protecting the smugglers. We are hunting for them.'
Earlier this week, survivors told the Associated Press that police armed with pistols and automatic weapons forced 418 passengers to board the boat even though several did not want to after seeing its poor condition.
Officers allegedly used their rifle butts to beat two asylum seekers.
The refugees said a police launch escorted the wooden boat out of Indonesian waters.
In recent months, thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Asia have travelled through Indonesia in an effort to reach Australia.
On Thursday, Australia's navy intercepted a boat carrying 219 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers near Ashmore Reef, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.
Meanwhile, another boat, carrying at least 170 illegal migrants, was also headed for Australia, the Indonesian Antara news agency reported today.