Bali asylum-seekers' stand-off ends

May 12, 2013
Michael Bachelard
Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media

Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard says it's unusual for asylum seekers to dock in Bali, where 61 people are engaged in a stand-off with police.

Update: Police removed the remainder of the asylum seekers waiting on a boat at Benoa port in Bali to sail for Australia, but the mystery of why they were there in the first place remains.

Police took the remaining 61 passengers off at about 4am AEST after the boat, originally carrying 96 sailing from Bali and trying to get to Australia was stopped outside the harbour on Sunday morning.

But Bali water police chief of operation unit Rai Suandi said this was the first ever refugee vessel to sail from Bali. Until authorities have had a chance to talk to the refugees they will not know whether this is a one-off or an attempt by people smugglers to find a new route to Australia through the busy Ngurah Rai international airport in Bali.

It's unclear at this stage if the boat was aiming for mainland Western Australia, Christmas Island to the west, or Ashmore reef to the east

Bali water police chief Tubuh Musyareh said the group had been intercepted by water police about 5am on Sunday as their boat entered the Badung Strait. They escorted it back to port, but only a small proportion of the people on-board agreed to disembark.

Also on Sunday, 42 Iranians were caught in Bali as they waited for a boat to sail to Australia, and were taken to Jimbaran detention centre. Indonesian marine police officers guard the asylum seekers.

The resolution to the stand-off came as one of Indonesia's biggest people smugglers, Billu, who arranged a boat in June last year that sank and killed 96 people, was arrested in a police operation in Jakarta.

The smuggler, whose real name is Javed Mehmud, was arrested on Friday at an apartment in North Jakarta according to Indonesia's anti-people smuggling taskforce chief, Budi Santoso.

Billu is understood to have admitted to arranging four boats, but people smuggling sources said he has been involved in dozens of ventures stretching back to the first wave of asylum seekers between 1998 and 2002.

Budi said Billu would face people smuggling charges in Indonesia, which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.

A spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police confirmed the operation, while also congratulating Indonesian authorities for the arrest. "This arrest demonstrates the successful close co-operation between Australia and international law enforcement and the joint commitment to the fight against people smuggling," the spokesperson said.

A people smuggling source said Billu had lost more than one boat in his career. One in about 2000 had cost 100 lives, the source said.

His offsiders on that operation, Zahid Nana and Kamran Bhat, were still active and arranging boats for another prominent people smuggler, Mohammad Ali Chote.

The source said Billu's network had the strong involvement of corrupt Indonesian police, and used the West Java towns of Garut and Bandung and staging posts for their activities.

It has been a big week for Indonesian activity against people smugglers. As well as Billu's arrest, Australian citizen Ali Qaseem was sentenced to six years in prison for his activities and another kingpin, Sayed Abbas, faced a court seeking to extradite him to Australia.

with AAP

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