Arrests rout people-smugglers
By Don Greenlees and Kimina Lyall
The Weekend Australian
14 July 2001

TWO ringleaders of one of the biggest Indonesia-based people- smuggling syndicates have been captured after a long-running Cambodian police surveillance operation.

Their capture is a significant breakthrough in efforts to combat the illegal people trade to Australia.

Pakistani Hasan Ayoub and Indonesian Abraham Louhanapessy were detained this week while allegedly trying to organise the biggest shipment of illegal boatpeople to Australia.

Mr Ayoub is a key figure in organising passengers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Mr Louhanapessy, from the Indonesian island of Ambon, organises boats and crews.

The pair were intercepted by police last Sunday morning when their boat was a few kilometres from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville.

The vessel, carrying 248 people, was believed to be on its way to Indonesia to collect more passengers before sailing to Australia. It would potentially have surpassed the human cargo on the Adelong, which landed 353 illegal immigrants on Ashmore Reef in November 1999.

Cambodian authorities said Mr Ayoub, who was travelling on false documents, and Mr Louhanapessy, also known as Captain Bram, could face up to 15 years in jail if convicted under the country's human trafficking laws.

The two are being held in a Phnom Penh immigration detention centre, along with seven crew. Under Cambodian law, they can be held for three months without charge.

Charges are expected to be laid following an investigation, including interviews with the boatpeople.

The Australian Government will send two interpreters this weekend to help Cambodian authorities interview the boatpeople, who are mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Australian embassy also is providing assistance in verifying the boatpeople's passports. Ambassador to Cambodia, Louise Hand, said the arrests would serve as a big deterrent to people smugglers: 'What the Cambodian Government has been able to do, nobody else has been able to do. The reverberations must be being felt globally.'

The arrest of Mr Ayoub and Mr Louhanapessy is a big blow to a people-smuggling syndicate operating out of western Indonesia. It is estimated the group sent three boats this year, carrying 525 people, and is responsible for 30 per cent of the boatpeople traffic to Australia.

Cambodian police had been running a surveillance operation after receiving information from Australian authorities that pointed to Cambodia as a potential launching pad for Indonesia-based smugglers.

Immigration officials then noticed an increase in arrivals of people from South Asia on tourist visas to Pochentong Airport over a period of six weeks and kept them under close watch. The International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are providing assistance to the boatpeople, who are being housed in Phnom Penh before being processed as refugees or returned to their countries of origin. The alleged ringleaders are held at the immigration department's 'guest house' in Phnom Penh.

Australian officials may provide some assistance with the prosecutions. It would be the first time Cambodia's criminal laws against human trafficking have been used against people smugglers, rather than sex-slave traders.

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