Indian police reinforcements yesterday took up positions near an island where isolated tribal hunters killed a US missionary, although no effort was to be made to recover his body, officials said.
Hampered by restrictions on going to North Sentinel and the hostility of the Sentinelese people, Indian authorities are counting on the expertise of anthropologists and tribal welfare specialists to access the remains of 27-year-old John Allen Chau.
Chau was last week killed by arrows fired by the Sentinelese hunter-gatherers after he illegally went ashore in an apparent attempt to convert the tribe to Christianity.
Indian police have used a helicopter and a ship to get close to the protected island, but failed to spot Chau’s body or identify the place where he was killed.
“To make the picture better and clearer, another police team is being sent to the North Sentinel island waters,” Andaman Islands Police Chief Dependra Pathak told reporters.
Seven people, including six fishermen, have been arrested for leading Chau to North Sentinel. Police hope the fishermen can give more clues to the place where he was slain.
“Police have obtained seven days’ custody for three of the accused,” Pathak said.
“They will be interrogated on various aspects of the case, including the sequence of events, the sea route followed for the island, the location where the victim landed, the place of incidence and location where Chau was last seen,” he added.
Foreigners and Indians are banned from going within 5km of the island to protect the Sentinelese, believed to number about 150, from outside disease.
While a murder case has been registered, experts have discounted any possibility of action against the tribe for the death.
Indian authorities have said that Chau paid the fishermen to take him as close to the island as possible and then took his own kayak to North Sentinel.
“It will also be ascertained whether the victim had taken the help of these fishermen or others to venture to the island on an earlier occasion,” Pathak said.
Police would also take a new look at Chau’s personal journal, in which he expressed fears that he might be killed, Pathak added.
“My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you... Here is some fish,” Pathak quoted Chau as telling the tribe after arriving.
Fishermen saw the tribe burying his body on the beach the following day, another missionary wrote in an e-mail to the Chau’s mother, the Washington Post reported.
Recovering the body could take days, if it happens at all, as Indian authorities insist they cannot disturb the tribe or their habitat in the highly sensitive zone.
The few photographs that exist of the Sentinelese show them all but naked carrying spears, bows and arrows.
The tribe reportedly killed two fishermen whose boat drifted onto the island in 2006. They also fired arrows at a helicopter checking for damage after a devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
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