India

John Allen Chau: India 'puts on hold' efforts to retrieve body

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Media captionWho are the Sentinelese?

Indian officials have "put on hold" efforts to retrieve the body of an American missionary reportedly killed by an endangered tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar islands last week.

A senior official told the BBC it was done so as not to disturb the protected Sentinelese tribespeople.

John Allen Chau is said to have been killed with arrows when he landed on North Sentinel island on 17 November.

He was trying to convert the tribespeople to Christianity.

His body is still on the island and attempts so far to retrieve it have been unsuccessful.

On Monday, top government official Chetan Sanghi called a meeting of senior officials from the police, tribal welfare, forest and anthropological departments where it was decided to put the search for the body on hold, an official who attended the meeting told the BBC.

The official, who did not want to be named, said a boat was sent to the area on Tuesday morning, but it was "only to check the situation".

"In the initial days several attempts were made to find the body after the tribesmen were seen dragging it. We know the general direction of where it was taken, but we still don't know where exactly it is," he said.

The decision to halt the search was taken because the exercise "is too risky" and also after "objections" were raised by various groups, he added.

Earlier on Monday, rights group Survival International said the search should be called off as it was "incredibly dangerous" for both the Sentinelese and officials.

"Such efforts in similar cases in the past have ended with the Sentinelese attempting to defend their island by force," said Survival director Stephen Corry.

Indian anthropologists and researchers also expressed concern that search teams going to the island may escalate tensions.

In the past few days, police are reported to have used a ship and a helicopter to get close to the island because a murder case has been registered which has to be investigated.

But considering that the tribespeople are protected, the authorities are in a quandary about how to proceed further.

In 2006, the Sentinelese killed two Indian fishermen who had tried to sneak on to the island. Officials were unable to retrieve the bodies.

What have authorities done so far?

The most recent attempt to retrieve Chau's body was at the weekend, when a police boat faced off with Sentinelese tribesmen but withdrew to avoid confrontation.

On Saturday, police stationed their boat about 400m (437 yards) offshore and, using binoculars, saw tribesmen on the beach armed with bows and arrows.

"They stared at us and we were looking at them," regional police chief Dependra Pathak told reporters. The boat then withdrew.

Image copyright Survival International
Image caption Few images of the endangered tribe exist
Image copyright Christian Caron - Creative Commons A-NC-SA
Image caption The Sentinelese stand guard on an island beach in 2005

Six fishermen who ferried Chau, 27, to North Sentinel island have been arrested over the incident, with one other person also held.

Outsiders are banned from even approaching the island so as to protect the people who live there, and their way of life.

The complete isolation of the Sentinelese people means contact with the outside world could put them at risk, as they are likely to have no immunity to even common illnesses such as flu and measles.

The tribesmen have also treated outsiders with hostility for years.

Chau's family have said they forgive those who killed him.

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