Howard to investigate reports of coercion
Thursday 25 October 2001
Prime Minister John Howard said today he was seeking official confirmation of reports that Indonesian security personnel forced asylum seekers onto a leaky boat at gunpoint.
Survivors of last week's tragedy in which 350 asylum seekers drowned said Indonesian forces helped oversee the boarding of passengers onto the boat bound for Australia.
Mr Howard said he did not know if the reports were true but said if they were, it was a sad reflection on Indonesian authorities.
"It has been an appalling tragedy, it really is a desperately sad event, and if those allegations are true it reflects very badly on the authority to allow that to happen," he told ABC regional radio.
Mr Howard continued his attack on Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, saying: "It also further reflects on the opposition leader for trying to link the Australian government to the tragedy".
He was referring to comments by Mr Beazley linking the sinking of the boat to "failure of government policy".
But Mr Howard welcomed the announcement by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda that Indonesia would host talks between refugees' source, transit and destination countries to try to stem the flow of boat people.
"This, of course, disproves the argument that Indonesia will only deal with a Labor government in Australia," he said.
"If that were the case then the Indonesian foreign minister would barely have made an announcement now ... he would presumably have waited until after the election in the event that a Labor victory would have (occurred)."