Jakarta police deny abetting smugglers

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The chief of the Indonesian Police force has denied allegations that his officers forced asylum-seekers at gunpoint on to a leaking fishing boat, which eventually sank with 418 people on board.

General Suroyo Bimantoro, the chief of police in Jakarta, was backed by two survivors from last week's tragedy, who said they saw no police before the overcrowded boat left Sumatra.

Others had claimed armed men in uniforms refused to let frightened refugees off the dilapidated vessel."I saw four of them; they were pointing their guns at us," Jalal Mohsin, a 34-year-old Iraqi said. "I think they were immigration people. I wanted to get off but they wouldn't let me."

Ali Hameed Ahmad, 28, who said he was a Kurdish refugee, said he saw 30 armed men in uniform. "Two [refugees] were beaten by the men in uniform," he said. "We were not allowed to get off." Another survivor, Kareem Jabar said an Egyptian people-smuggler smashed one man over the head with his gun-butt after he said he wanted to take his family off the boat. "When most of us saw the boat was too dangerous, we wanted to get off and get our money back," the 25-year-old Iraqi said. The boat capsized off Java on Saturday and only 44 people survived after clinging to wreckage for 19 hours.

Yesterday, another Indonesian ship carrying 219 refugees, mostly Iraqi asylum-seekers was intercepted by the Australian navy at uninhabited Ashmore Reef, in the Indian Ocean.

It has been moored off the reef under naval guard and the Australian Minister, Philip Ruddock, said no decision had been made on whether the refugees would be allowed in.