Asylum seekers in Bali stand-off

May 13, 2013 - 12:56AM
Michael Bachelard
Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media

A stand-off involving dozens of asylum seekers will stretch into a second day in Bali's Benoa Harbour as up to 75 people refuse to leave a boat intercepted earlier in the day bound for Australia.

The news 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.

Twenty-one people, mostly Afghans and Syrians, agreed on Sunday to get off the boat and were taken to a hotel, but the remaining passengers refused to leave and spent the night on the vessel.

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.

In Jakarta, Billu, 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 Qaseemwas sentenced to six years in prison for his activities and another kingpin, Sayed Abbas, faced a court seeking to extradite him to Australia.


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