TANJUNG PINANG, Indonesia: Indonesian authorities opened fire on a boat full of Afghan refugees, wounding two people, after demanding a bribe the Afghans could not afford to pay, one of the refugees says.
His account is at odds with that of Indonesian authorities, who said they fired shots only after realising the skipper of the boat was being forced to keep it heading towards Australia.
The 17-year-old refugee, who spoke from immigration detention in Kupang, West Timor, said the boat, with 61 Afghans aboard, had been at sea for four days, heading for Australia, when an Indonesian coast guard vessel intercepted them near Rote Island early on Friday.
After the coast guard demanded a $US50,000 ($54,206) bribe, the Afghans handed over all their money and were allowed to proceed, the youth said. But half an hour later they were stopped by another coast guard boat, whose crew asked for more money.
Because the Afghans could not pay, the Indonesians told them they had to stop their boat. But the Afghans decided to continue, said the youth, who does not want to be named.
''Without any announcement, without saying anything, they started shooting,'' he said.
Indonesian police said the vessel was spotted by the coast guard off Rote Island, less than 90 kilometres from Australian waters, early on Friday morning.
The large wooden cargo boat refused orders to stop and attempted to outrun the coast guard boats, the Police Guard operations chief, Bayu Herlambang, told the Herald.
When police drew close they could see the Indonesian skipper of the boat was being beaten and held hostage by an Afghan who was forcing him to keep the boat sailing for Australian waters, Commissioner Bayu said.
After repeated orders, police fired warning shots. When the skipper still refused to shut down the motor, police sent four officers in a small boat to storm the refugees' ship.
The 18-year-old skipper of the boat was shot once in each arm and was also wounded in the chin. A 21-year-old Afghan was shot in the left shoulder. Both are in a stable condition in a hospital in Kupang.
''Those police fired more warning shots, but still they did not stop, so police fired at the two in control of the boat,'' Commissioner Bayu said.
Sixty asylum seekers, all Afghan men between the ages of 15 and 55, are being held by police guards in Kupang.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he had heard reports of the shooting. However, he showed little sympathy, suggesting they may be people smugglers. Mr Rudd said people smugglers were ''ugly individuals'' and he supported a hardline stance against them.
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