Involvement of Indonesian Military personnel in people-smuggling to Australia was confirmed on Wednesday with the arrest of five soldiers while trying to escort asylum seekers from Syria and Iran to the West Java coast at Sukabumi.
Rear Adm. Iskandar Sitompul, a spokesman for the Indonesian military (TNI), confirmed that local police had arrested the five servicemen for guarding about 41 foreigners as they prepared to cross the sea to Australia’s Christmas Island.
“They come from the Siliwangi territorial command in West Java,” Iskandar said. “They are being interrogated by the military police.”
Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Hastind Asrin said the soldiers had embarrassed the country and that they should be punished heavily.
“They will be fired from the military and face a military tribunal,” he said. “They will go to jail if found guilty.”
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the asylum-seekers were traveling in minibuses and other vehicles when they were intercepted by port police early on Wednesday morning.
Police said the asylum-seekers were from Iran and Syria and intended to board a boat bound for Christmas Island.
The boat was meant to leave from Palangpang beach in the Pelabuhanratu area of the southwest Java coast.
Three drivers and a guide were also arrested and the foreigners have been detained for questioning.
The arrest came weeks after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to boost cooperation between the two countries in combatting people-smuggling.
The latest incident follows one last December in which three soldiers from the Brawijaya command in East Java were arrested attempting to smuggle undocumented migrants from the Middle East.