Death boat suspects under arrest
Tim Dodd
Australian Financial Review
27 October 2001

Jakarta: Two Indonesian police officers, allegedly involved in the fateful voyage in which more than 350 asylum seekers drowned a week ago, have been arrested, according to the national police chief.

General Surojo Bimantoro said on Friday that the two were being questioned. He added that police were also hunting the people smugglers who ran the operation. There were at least three suspects - a Malaysian, an Indian and an Iraqi he said.

According to sources, the head of the syndicate which sent the boat, an Egyptian known as Abu Quassey, is no longer at his home in Puncak, a highlands tea-growing are 80km south of Jakarta.

Survivors said that Quassey, aided by two Iraqis known as Majid and Khalid, arranged the unseaworthy vessel which sank south of Java. Fellow asylum seekers said Quassey was seen paying the police who forced people on board the doomed boat at gunpoint.

Quassey has close ties with Indonesian police and army officers who call the smuggler 'Macam' or 'tiger' according to asylum seekers who have seen them together.

The survivors from the voyage, who were rescued after about 20 hours in the water, believe that the hotel they stayed in before they set out, near Lumpung in southern Sumatra, was owned by a local police officer nicknamed 'Nani'.

Although General Bimantoro admitted his officers could be involved in people smuggling, he rejected the allegation that police had forced unwilling people aboard the boat at gunpoint.

Allegations abound regarding police and army involvement in the smuggling rackets in Indonesia.

A group of 140 asylum seekers - who narrowly avoided disaster in August when, during an attempted voyage to Australia, their boat caught fire and began taking on water - say they were escorted by two uniformed officers. They were unsure whether they were police or army officers. Two people, including a two-month-old baby, drowned on that voyage.

Since the most recent drownings, at least two other boats have set sail for Australia carrying hundreds of people.

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