Stand-off on how to recover missionary killed by tribe

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Indian police are planning how to recover the body of a US missionary buried on an island after he was killed by a tribe in a “hail of arrows”.

It comes amid a nervous stand-off between officers and the remote people of North Sentinel island following the death of John Allen Chau on 17 November.

Police in a boat around 400 metres from the shore were mapping the site when they spotted several men armed with bows and arrows on the beach where the American was last seen.

“They stared at us and we were looking at them,” said Dependra Pathak, police chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where North Sentinel is located.

The boat then turned back to avoid any chance of a confrontation with the isolated group.

Fishermen – who had taken the 26-year-old adventurer to India-owned North Sentinel as he wanted to convert the islanders to Christianity – spotted his body being buried.

Stand-off on how to recover missionary killed by tribe
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Mr Chau wanted to convert the islanders to Christianity

Mr Pathak said: “We have more or less identified the site and the area in general.”

However, before authorities carry out the delicate task of trying to recover his body, they have to learn “the nuances of the group’s conduct and behaviour, particularly in this kind of violent behaviour”, he added.

Mr Chau’s death is being treated as murder but anthropologists say it may be impossible to retrieve his body and that no charges will be brought against the protected tribe.

Exposing the isolated group to people from the outside world could also be risky – amid concerns that 21st century diseases as mild as the common cold could kill off the tribe.

The group have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone and they normally attack anyone who goes there.

Stand-off on how to recover missionary killed by tribe
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The adventurer's death is being treated as murder

The Sentinelese are believed to be the world’s last pre-neolithic tribe.

Sophie Grig, who campaigns for isolated groups, said: “I don’t believe there is any safe way to retrieve the body without putting both the Sentinelese and those attempting it at risk.”

Police are monitoring to see if there is any repeat of what happened after two fishermen who strayed onto the island in 2006 were killed.

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A week after their deaths, the pair’s bodies were hooked on bamboo stakes facing out to sea. “It was a kind of scarecrow,” Mr Pathak said.