July 19, 2012
FIVE members of the Indonesian military have been arrested for alleged involvement in a people-smuggling operation.
The five soldiers were arrested this morning in the company of 41 asylum-seekers, believed to be from Iran and Syria.
It’s believed the soldiers, who were in uniform, were escorting the group to a beach in southwest Java where they were set to board a boat to Australia.
The latest arrests come as another five Indonesian soldiers await trial over alleged involvement in organising an asylum-seeker boat that sank on its way to Australia last year.
As many as 200 people drowned when the overloaded boat, packed with about 250 asylum seekers, sank off the coast of East Java.
Just 49 people survived the tragedy, which occurred in rough monsoonal seas on December 17.
Indonesian authorities said the asylum-seekers detained today are believed to include a number of people from Syria, which has been racked by 16 months of fighting between rebel forces and the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The arrests came as another asylum-seeker boat, this one carrying about 6 people, was intercepted near Christmas Island.
ACV Triton, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted the vessel north of the island overnight.
The boat had earlier been spotted by a Customs and Border Protection Dash 8 surveillance aircraft.
In a separate development, Sri Lankan authorities have arrested another 41 would-be illegal immigrants heading to Australia in the fourth successful raid in as many days.
The boat was intercepted off Sri Lanka’s eastern coast yesterday and the passengers were escorted to the port of Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of the capital Colombo.
“This boat had 37 men and four women,” a navy official said, asking not to be named.
“They had paid large sums of money to people-smugglers for the passage (to Australia).”
Three other boats with a total of 192 people have been stopped in the past four days, police say.
The total number of Sri Lankans detained on charges of illegally trying to leave the country has reached more than 350 over the last week, according to police figures.