Kurds may return as witnesses

Brisbane Courier-Mail
Mark Phillips

SEVERAL Kurdish asylum seekers towed to Indonesia may have to be brought back to Australia if an alleged people smuggler is to be prosecuted.

The men would be required as witnesses in any case against Sydney kebab shop owner Ali Cetin, who has been linked to the passengers of the Minasa Bone, which arrived at Melville Island on November 4.

But the Federal Opposition warned that as soon as the Turkish Kurds set foot in Australia they could trigger the asylum process all over again.

Mr Cetin was identified in media reports yesterday as the Australian link to the 14 male Kurdish passengers of the Minasa Bone.

Originally from the same Turkish town as most of the passengers, he arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker in 1998.

He has since become an Australian citizen and owns a kebab shop in the upmarket Sydney suburb of Mosman. Mr Cetin was identified by several of the Kurdish men, who are now in Jakarta.

Yesterday, he denied knowing any of the Kurds, but he admitted meeting one of them in a hotel in Indonesia.

"I am not bringing in one people. I think the mafia is bringing the people in some different nationality," Mr Cetin said on ABC Radio.

The Courier-Mail repeatedly attempted to contact Mr Cetin yesterday, but he did not answer the phone.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Mr Cetin was "a person of interest" to authorities, but would not elaborate further.

He refused to comment when asked whether the Government had known of Mr Cetin before media reports yesterday.

Other Government ministers were equally evasive when they were asked about the progress of investigations. But the Australian Federal Police told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday night that it had not interviewed the Kurds in Jakarta and had lost track of the four crew of the Minasa Bone.

"We're hoping to interview and re-interview the passengers of the Minasa Bone who are now in Indonesia," Tony Negus, the AFP's general manager national, told the inquiry.

Mr Ruddock denied that the Government's decision to send the Kurds back to Indonesia would hamper any efforts to prosecute people smugglers in Australia.

"There is provision in the Migration Act for the issue of visas, called the criminal justice visa, for people to come (to Australia) and give evidence," he said.

Shadow Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the incident had exposed holes in the Government's strategy for combating people smugglers.

Six of the Kurdish men have volunteered to return to Turkey, while the other eight are pursuing asylum claims through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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