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. 'Stone Age' Tribe Kills Castaways On Forbidden Andaman Island

file photo of local inhabitants of the Andaman Islands.
by Pratap Chakravarty
New Delhi (AFP) Feb 07, 2006
Police on India's Andamans are planning to sneak onto a forbidden island to retrieve the bodies of two castaways killed by members of an isolated tribe, officials said Tuesday.

Fishermen Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari fell asleep in their row boat which drifted to the shores of North Sentinal island, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Andaman's administrative capital of Port Blair, Dharmendra Kumar, police chief of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

They were killed with bows and arrows by Sentinalese tribespeople when they arrived on the shores of the island, which is out of bounds even to Indian authorities.

The attack occurred some 10 days ago and the "Stone Age" aborigines have buried the pair in separate shallow graves next to their boat from where police hope to retrieve the bodies.

"Right now, it is impossible. There'll be casualties on both sides," said Kumar.

"Right now, they are coming out in large numbers and so let things cool down and once these tribals move to the island's other end we'll try and sneak in and bring back the bodies," the police chief told AFP by telephone from Port Blair.

Relatives of the slain fishermen were taken by government boats and shown the two graves through binoculars, said B.S. Negi, Andaman's chief civilian administrator, adding the area was still surrounded by 20 naked Sentinalese.

Kumar's plan if executed is likely to be criticised by environmental groups who accuse the authorities of failing to protect the archipelago's five aboriginal groups who have lived on the island cluster for 60,000 years.

"It will be crazy if the police land on the island. They will be condemned by the whole world," warned Samir Achorya, founder of Society of Andaman and Nicobar Ecology environmental group.

Achorya said the two slain men were poaching lobsters and crabs in the off-limit waters of Sentinal.

"These two were petty criminals and have been imprisoned many times so we don't know what the police will gain by retrieving their rotting corpses from the island, which is the legal exclusive preserve of the aborigines," he said.

Survival International, an international pressure forum for near-extinct tribes, accused the archipelago's administration of not doing enough to prevent fishing boats entering the island's waters, which are even forbidden to naval ships.

"These tragic deaths could have been avoided if authorities had been enforcing the law," forum director Stephen Corry said in a statement.

Beside the Sentinalese, four other Stone Age tribes -- the 99-member Onge, 350-member Shompens, 39 of the almost extinct Andamanese and 350 Jarawas --- live on the Andamans.

Only a handful died in the tsunami waves which lashed the archipelago on December 26, 2004, killing some 3,500 people in the Andamans. Another 5,000 are still listed as missing.

A military reconnaissance helicopter surveying a tsunami shipwreck near the island strayed too close to its shores last year and received a volley of arrows, one of which pierced the cockpit glass narrowly missing its startled pilot.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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