Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA) - Police in Riau Province thwarted an attempt by a transnational human trafficking syndicate to smuggle 15 Indonesian and two Indian nationals to Malaysia through Rupat Island in Bengkalis District a week ago, a spokesperson said.

Members of the Malaysia-Indonesia-India syndicate tried to transport the 17 victims by speed boat through the waters of Sungai Cingam Village in Rupat Island, Bengkalis District, Riau Province, at the end of March, said Riau Police spokesperson Sen.Coms.Sunarto.

"The human trafficking operation was conducted from Rupat Island because the boat could reach Malaysian territory within 30 minutes," he said in a press statement that ANTARA received in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province, on Wednesday.

Police arrested five suspects -- identified as AM alias Ahmad, AR alias Abdul, KH alias Irul, HL alias Lina, and SP alias Pian -- who played different roles in the human trafficking operation.

Ahmad served as the boat's skipper, while Abdul and Irul were crew members. Lina served as the recruiter and enticed the victims to travel to Malaysia by promising them high wage jobs, while Pian coordinated the operation.

The suspects were likely Rupat islanders, stated Suharto. They tried to take the people who paid them by speed boat through the Morong Strait to Malaysia.

The Riau police are still hunting down 21 more suspects. Several of them were foreign nationals, he added.

The trafficking attempt comes at a time when Indonesian and Malaysian authorities are busy battling the outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a global pandemic which initially struck the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019.

The virus has spread to Indonesia, Malaysia, and at least 200 other countries and territories, causing a massive number of deaths. Public health and economy in many countries have taken a major hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of endeavors to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Malaysia, the government of the neighboring country has passed a movement control order, which will be in place until April 14.

According to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, as of April 6, around 44,650 Indonesians have returned to the homeland from Malaysia, while several of the 1.2 million Indonesians are still residing in the neighboring country. (INE)

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Translator: Anggi R, Rahmad Nasution
Editor: Suharto
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