MERAK: The hunger-striking Sri Lankans who were prevented from reaching Australia and are stuck in Indonesia were defiant yesterday, insisting they would not leave their ship or consume liquids despite the blazing heat and humidity.Talking to media as their ship was berthed in the port of Merak in western Java, their spokesman, ”Alex”, said they would ignore the entreaties of their supporters to drink water, even as three of their number were taken to hospital with dehydration and four were treated onboard.”We want the international community to see how desperate we are,” said Alex, pleading for a consular official from Australia or any Western country to ”please come and speak to us, that’s our only demand”.The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has rejected the pleas of the asylum seekers and no consular official has visited the boat, even though a diplomatic official and an Australian Federal Police officer have been stationed at the port since Sunday, watching developments from a distance.Earlier yesterday, Indonesia’s local navy commander, Colonel Irawan, said up to 70 per cent of those on board wanted to disembark. But in a staged show of strength before the cameras, Alex asked if anybody wanted to go or felt compelled to stay and received a resounding ”No”.A mother onboard, Varshini, told the Herald many of the 31 children, including her own, had asked why they were on the boat and there were ”big problems” looking after them within the cramped confines of the old wooden vessel.Varshini is among the many women and all of the men refusing food and water. The children, one pregnant woman and two breastfeeding mothers have not joined the hunger strike.As the navy ship to which their vessel had been tethered steamed off the horizon, the vessel moved next to the dock, giving the asylum seekers the chance to engage freely with a growing pack of media, who were not allowed onboard the boat.Many of those on the hunger strike looked unwell. Alex – who developed his American accent while working in call centres in India – said he was very weak. People can survive without food for weeks, but failing to take liquids can lead quickly to serious illness and death, especially in the searing heat of Java.From one moment to the next, Alex said he was prepared to die and not prepared to die.Many of the asylum seekers told reporters of their professions and said they were neither poor nor seeking economic opportunities in Australia, but they were fleeing persecution from the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka who routed the Tamil Tigers in a civil war, resulting in many going to camps that are closed to the press and aid workers.A roll-call of occupations included accountants, carpenters, electricians, a jewellery shop owner and many information technology workers.Conditions are so bad in Sri Lanka that ”there will be many more boats on the way”, said Alex. ”What does Kevin Rudd have to say about that?”Indonesian officials are losing patience with the Sri Lankans. The immigration chief of Banten, Harry Purwanto, said they were potential suicide bombers. ”Suicide bombing is not monopolised by al-Qaeda only. They do it, too,” he said. ”So if they said they’re ready to die, they mean it.”The Tigers are seen as originators of suicide bombing, but those onboard denied being members.Makeshift accommodation has been arranged in nearby Cilegon and transport is ready to take them at the end of the stand-off.
Nanjing Night Net

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