Indian authorities have hit pause on efforts to retrieve the body of slain American missionary John Chau from the remote island of North Sentinel, where he was killed by members of a reclusive endangered tribe.
Chau was killed Nov. 17 after illegally visiting the island in a bid to convert the uncontacted Sentinelese hunter-gatherer tribe to Christianity. His body is believed to be buried somewhere along the beach.
Anthropologists and tribal welfare experts have urged authorities to abandon any plans to retrieve the body in order to avoid confronting the tribe and potentially exposing them to diseases for which they lack immunity.
Authorities have decided to pay heed to that advice, according to the BBC.
The British broadcaster reported that senior government, police, forest and anthropology department officials met Monday and decided to place the search on hold.
An official who attended the meeting told the BBC that the decision was taken due to the risks involved for both the tribe and recovery crews, as well as “objections” raised by various groups.
CNN cited a police official saying authorities wanted to avoid “direct confrontation” with the tribe, but weren’t categorically ruling out a future attempt at a recovery mission.
“We do not want to go there and create an unhappy situation,” CNN quoted the police official saying.
WATCH: Investigators still trying to determine how to recover body of American killed on Indian island
Global News reached out to Chetan Sanghi, a senior government official who the BBC reported organized the meeting, to confirm the decision and the reasoning behind it.
Sanghi declined to discuss the meeting. Instead, he referred Global News to a Guardian column that outlined the historical exploitation of the Sentinelese by colonial groups and argued for the tribe to be left alone.
“The history of outsiders’ relations with the indigenous people of the Andamans has a clear pattern – colonization, exploitation and eventual extermination,” wrote researcher Ajay Saini in the column.
“If we are to learn anything from our past, it is that the Sentinelese should be left alone on North Sentinel Island.”
WATCH: Who are the Sentinelese people? A look at the history of the tribe
Authorities previously said they were consulting anthropologists and tribal welfare experts to see if there was any way they could convey a friendly gesture to the tribe and approach the island.
Experts have also been consulting reports on the tribe’s behaviour following their killing of two Indian fishermen in 2006 as they look for clues as to how they respond after the killing of outsiders, of whom they are famously leery.
Indian officials have repeatedly traveled near the remote island since Chau’s killing, but have not set foot there.
Tribesmen were seen on the shores of the beach armed with spears and bows and arrows, but did not attempt to launch them at authorities observing from a boat a few hundred metres away from the shore.
“They are a treasure,” said Dependra Pathak, director-general of police for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “We cannot go and force our way in. We don’t want to harm them.”
Authorities have ruled out taking any action against the tribe over the killing. The tribe, whose population is believed to number less than 100, have special protected status under Indian law.
However, three fishermen who Chau bribed to take him to the island were arrested and are to be held in police custody for a week, the New Indian Express reported.
— With a file from the Associated Press