SINGAPORE men are flocking back to Karimun Island a month after Indonesian police raids aimed at stamping out forced prostitution, human trafficking and illegal abortions.
Yesterday, three Singapore ferries carrying 20 to 30 Singaporeans arrived on the island famous for its pretty young things.
The arrivals surprised locals, who had been complaining of poor business during the police crackdown - a month of nightly raids which ended on May 15.
At least four hotels declared 'full house', and pimps were all smiles yesterday, different from the expressions they wore a day earlier.
By noon yesterday, 49 of 60 girls under one pimp's charge at a popular sex joint, Villa Kapling, had already been booked.
"Half my clients today were Singapore men. I am now left with only 11 girls. If you want, book one now. In an hour's time, when the next ferry arrives, there will be no more girls for you," he told The Sunday Times.
The Singapore men were seen walking hand-in-hand with their 'cewek' (Indonesian girls) making their way to seafood restaurants around town.
Most just smiled and refused to talk when approached by this newspaper reporter. Others shook their heads when asked if they were looking for girls and walked away.
One said: "Sorry, I do not know anything about the raids. This trip is my first time." But locals familiar with him said he was a regular.
Another, a widower in his 60s, said he came with a friend and worked as a lorry driver.
"I like to come to Karimun to enjoy myself. We can have a good seafood meal for $20.
"Sometimes, I try to get an Indonesian girl to keep me company. Those from Java are very pretty, and they also know how to treat men nice," he said.
He said he had heard about the raids from a friend and avoided coming.
But now, he thinks that everything is okay.
"I am not scared because the Karimun police will only catch the types who book the young ones."
A Singaporean who looked to be in his 50s said he had visited the island only last week.
"The usual things, makan, sleep, sing. I am not choosy. I do not need a young girl, but she must be pretty," he said.
"We Singaporeans come here not to do bad things. We pay everything for the girl. Now, I do not go out of hotel room. I just tell my driver to take the girl to the hotel, and we stay inside. We do not need to come out; it is not safe."
One man was even defiant about his plans. He said he was here to eat, drink and have a good time, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Operasi Bunga Seligi 2007, the police raid, was the first of its kind on Karimun - and will certainly not be the last, said Karimun police chief Leonidas Braksan.
He said his team will decide if such raids will be conducted annually or more frequently.
In Indonesia, women aged 21 and below are considered minors unless they are married. The police chief said many of the 200 women rounded up during the operation were minors as young as 16 years old.
An Indonesian pimp who goes by the name Yus said: "It is an open secret that majority of the girls here were young, 17, 18, 19 years old, before the operation.
"But now, no more young ones. They have all been sent back to their villages."
He said that Singapore men make up 30 per cent of the clients at Villa Kapling.
When police raided the place sometime in May, close to 100 Singapore clients were at the scene.
"They were traumatised by the experience, although the police left them alone. Until today, some kept calling me to ask if it was safe to return," he said.
Sixteen pimps - all Indonesians - alleged to have trafficked in women and young girls by force had been arrested, and were now awaiting their fate in court.
If found guilty, they each could be jailed for up to five years.
Mr Leonidas said: "We welcome tourists, whether they are Singaporeans or Malaysians. We will not stop them from having a good time here as long as they do not exploit the women."
Photo: AZIZ HUSSIN