BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: The Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that it would be sending a six-person delegation to Indonesia within the next 24 hours to oversee the repatriation of some 42 Lebanese, including the survivors of last month's boat tragedy.
The delegation, which will include a forensics expert, will also be tasked with identifying the remains of dozens of recovered bodies using DNA testing and arranging for their transfer back to Lebanon, the Ministry’s Secretary-General Ambassador Wafiq Ruhaimeh, told Journalists following a meeting with top government and military figures.
While conflicting reports have emerged regarding the number of dead and missing, Ruhaimeh said that according to survivors, approximately 68 of the 80 people on board the boat were Lebanese. Eighteen survived the sinking, and another six that were being held by Indonesian authorities for overstaying their visas have been released.
At least 18 more Lebanese citizens who were waiting to make a similar clandestine trip to Australia will also be brought back to Lebanon, he added.
Of the 36 bodies that have reportedly been recovered, the number of Lebanese among them is unknown.
Ruhaimeh defended the Ministry’s response, saying the Ministry has been working nonstop since news of the tragedy broke but that sorting out the logistics of the recovery mission took several days.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati also came out in defense of the Lebanese state’s actions in a statement released Tuesday.
“Since the first day of this tragedy, the Lebanese government mobilized all its branches to follow up on this humanitarian issue and asked the Lebanese Embassy in Indonesia to go on high alert and follow up with the authorities there to rescue the survivors and the transfer the bodies of the victims,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, angry residents in the north of the country Tuesday blocked the main highway linking Tripoli with Akkar, blaming the government over last week’s boat tragedy in Indonesian waters that led to the death of a number of Lebanese citizens from the region.
The protesters blocked the highway in both directions at the Beddawi intersection with burning tires and stones, prompting security forces to divert traffic to the inner marine road.
Residents also closed the roads at Abu Ali roundabout in Tripoli, Arman in Minyeh and Abdeh roundabout all the way up to Birqayel and the roads leading to Halba in Akkar, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The protesters demanded Lebanese authorities help in uncovering the fate of the Lebanese on board the vessel.
“There is no official concern. We are protesting Lebanese authorities’ negligence over the fate of the poor,” said Khodr Harraz, one the relatives of the boat victims.
“All we hear is conflicting information and words of condolence. We want action by authorities,” added Harraz, who was among the group of residents protesting at Abu Ali roundabout.
Ahmad Matar, who was supervising the protest, said: “We are burning tires but we are not preventing people from crossing on foot.”
“What else can we do if the only language our state understands is the language of force?” he asked.
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara also accused the state of neglect over the affair and urged President Michel Sleiman to personally intervene to try to resolve the issue of the survivors.
“The tragedy of Lebanese victims in Indonesia, the living and the dead alike, causes pain and provokes an angry cry at the same time,” Kabbara said in a statement.
This anger, Kabarra said, is caused by “the deliberate neglect of the state of its duty to protect Lebanese citizens and to effectively respond to a request to embrace the boat survivors and bring the dead back home.”
Kabbara, however, acknowledged the complexity surrounding the issue but alleged the Lebanese government had not adequately handled the matter.
“We urge the president ... to go to Indonesia on a mission to rescue Lebanese citizens abandoned by their country,” Kabbara said.