Indonesian police arrest key people smuggler

Agence France Presse
November 7, 2001 Wednesday 11:45 PM Eastern Time

Indonesian police said Wednesday they had arrested an Egyptian believed to be the key man in a people-smuggling ring blamed for a boat tragedy in which some 350 asylum-seekers bound for Australia drowned.

The man, identified as Abu Quassey, was arrested on Sunday in West Java, said national police spokesman Brigadier General Saleh Saaf.

Only 44 people survived last month's tragedy and some said Quassey, assisted by Indonesian police and people-smugglers had forced several immigrants on board the doomed rotting boat at gunpoint. The Indonesian police have said they were searching for three Iraqis also believed to have assisted Quassey in forcing the refugees into the boat.

Apart from Quassey and the three Iraqis, police were "still searching for many other people-smugglers", Saaf added.

One of Saaf's deputies, Adjunct Chief Commissioner Prasetyo, told AFP that Quassey would be handed over to the immigration authorities for questioning later Wednesday.

He said he had actually been arrested in Bandung, a town some 200 kilometres (124 miles) southwest of here, although Saaf said the arrest was made in West Java.

Asked if police had taken Quassey to the shelter where the survivors are staying so they could identify him, Saaf said such technique was "part of police interrogation method."

Prasetyo said if police and immigration found that Quassey had played a role in the tragedy, he would face "further legal process".

If no evidence was found, Quassey "will be deported" to Egypt, Prasetyo added.

Thousands of people from the Middle East and elsewhere use Indonesia as a stepping stone to reach Australia, trusting their lives to people-smugglers often using dilapidated and overloaded boats.

Australia has urged the Indonesian government to clamp down on people-smuggling.

But the head of Indonesia's navy said last week that every refugee boat encountered in Indonesian waters should be allowed to continue to its destination.

"We cannot arrest them, but we can allow them to continue their journey according to their destination country because it is their basic human right," Admiral Indroko Sastrowiryono said.


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