Plan to boost Indonesian intelligence force

The Age
Tuesday 28 August 2001

Australia will consider beefing up a special intelligence unit of Indonesian police, whose role it is to fight people-smuggling syndicates, when it renews an agreement with Indonesia within weeks on joint efforts to curb the flow of boat people to the country.

The unit, established for one year last September, will soon be reviewed and will almost certainly be re-signed by the two governments.

The Indonesian police unit costs Australia about $190,000 a year and its officers are stationed at five police precincts throughout the archipelago, although the number of precincts may be increased.

Under the deal, Australia pays the full cost of a "special intelligence unit" of 20 Indonesian national police officers. The unit works closely with two Australian Federal Police officers stationed at the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

The AFP officers do not conduct operational police work in Indonesia but report tip-offs to the Indonesians about the latest activities and plans of international people-smuggling groups. The unit is funded under a special law enforcement program run by Australia.

The officers are closely supported by a special "strike team" of 10 AFP officers and five Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs officers based in Australia.

The "strike team" was established 14 months ago and targets the "organised element" of people smuggling. Members of the group travel throughout Asia but concentrate on Indonesia. The unit costs about $2.2 million a year and much of its work is focused on the Australian contacts of people-smuggling syndicates.

Graham Ashton, general manager of the AFP's international and federal operations, said the "strike team" was a first.

Mr Ashton said the strike team, which is about to be reviewed by Australian authorities, would continue. "We are ready to increase the resource commitment to that if we need to," he said.

Mr Ashton said more than 3500 people had been stopped in Indonesia from coming to Australia since the special teams had been established.

A spokeswoman for Customs Minister Chris Ellison said the AFP had advised the government that the special intelligence unit of Indonesian police had produced excellent results. "The intention is to continue the program for a further 12 months subject to negotiations with the Indonesian authorities," she said.

The Australian Government has tried to crack down on the people-smuggling trade on a range of fronts over the past two years. New laws came into effect in July, 1999, which introduced a maximum jail term of up to 20 years and a maximum fine of $220,000 for people who organised five people or more to illegally enter Australia. For individual instances of people smuggling, the law allowed a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to $110,000.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has also made numerous trips throughout Asia and to the Middle East seeking the help of foreign governments to stop the human cargo trade. And in June last year, he released a hard-hitting public relations campaign that aimed to scare illegal immigrants from coming to Australia.

But opposition immigration spokesman Con Sciacca said the government's attempts had been unsuccessful. About 13,500 boat people had flooded Australia's borders in the past 10 years, almost 11,000 of them since the Howard Government took office, he said.

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