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French Diver Condems Indonesia Over Detention in Archeological Salvage Operation; 'Incomprehensible and Scandalous'

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A French professional diver on Monday condemned Indonesian authorities for detaining him over allegedly taking part in what they say was an illegal archeological salvage operation.

"It is incomprehensible and scandalous. It concerns disrespect of freedom and of human rights," Jean-Paul Blancan, who was detained three weeks ago after taking part in an operation to salvage treasure from Java Sea wreck told AFP.

Blancan along with fellow diver German national Fred Dobberphul, who was also arrested, face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty of working without proper authorisation.

The German and French embassies here have said that the salvage operations had the necessary permits from at least 11 ministries. The French embassy issued a protest note saying that Blancan's arrest was arbitrary.

The Belgian head of the archeology project, begun two years ago in a venture with an Indonesian partner company, claims that a rival company was behind the arrests and aims to get its own hands on the bounty. He has alleged that corrupt elements in the Indonesian police have assisted his rivals.

Blancan said that a policeman to whom he had proclaimed his innocence had curtly replied: "I know, but this is political."

"It is mainly the cargo that interests them. The scientific work, they really do not care about it," the diver said from a prison hospital, where he was transferred after contracting both typhoid and dengue fever.

The cargo of the ship, believed to have sunk in the Java Sea during the 10th century, includes 250,000 pieces of china and ceramics, bronze and gold objects bought from Arab traders and thousands of semi-precious stones.

The treasures and other information gleaned from the wreck could provide important clues about ancient trading routes and the arrival of Islam in Indonesia, experts have said.


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