Indonesian police have arrested a suspected people-smuggler from Afghanistan accused of arranging a boat trip in which 90 people drowned off Australia’s Christmas Island, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Rescuers managed to save 110 asylum seekers after the boat sank in the Indian Ocean off the remote Australian territory on June 21 with an estimated 200 people on board, but the accident left about 90 dead.
The 19-year-old suspect, who was arrested Friday and was identified only by his initials D.A, had been living in Indonesia for two years, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told AFP.
“We arrested him on suspicion of people-smuggling and cooperation with a smuggling syndicate in Pakistan,” Amar said.
“His role was to organize the migrants’ trip [which resulted] in the accident on June 21.”
Amar said the the suspect had confessed to successfully sending three other boats of asylum seekers to Australia.
Canberra is struggling to deal with a steady influx of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, boarding leaky wooden vessels after fleeing states such as Afghanistan and Iran.
In a second sinking just days after the June 21 incident, 130 people were rescued and four were lost.
Although they travel in relatively small numbers by global standards, asylum seekers are a sensitive political issue in Australia, dominating 2010 elections due to a record 6,555 arrivals.
Australia and Indonesia Tuesday agreed to work more closely to crack down on people-smuggling, with visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono saying Indonesians were also victims of the trade.