RI withdraws its ambassador to Australia

Jakarta Post
24 March 2006

JAKARTA (AP): Indonesia reacted furiously Friday to Australia's decision to grant temporary visas to asylum seekers from Papua province, recalling its ambassador and warning that the move jeopardizes ties between the neighboring countries.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Friday he was ordering Indonesia's ambassador in Australia to return to Jakarta "as soon as the first flight could bring (him) ... back home" to discuss matter.

"The government of Indonesia is surprised, disappointed and very much regrets this decision," the Foreign Ministry said in a strongly worded statement, adding it shows that "elements inAustralia" back the eastern Indonesian region's separatist movement.

Australia said Thursday that 42 of a group of 43 people from the Indonesian province of Papua had been granted temporary protection visas, entitling them to stay in Australia for three years.

The group, who arrived in northeastern Australia in January, had accused the Indonesian military of conducting genocide in their homeland while putting down the decades-long separatist movement.

Granting the group asylum is sensitive because it is an effective acknowledgment by Canberra that Indonesian security forces are abusing human rights in Papua province, where rights activists say 100,000 have been killed in anti-insurgent operations since 1969.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has personally called Australian Prime Minister John Howard to reassure him that the group, which includes seven children, would not be harmed it returned.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Agung Laksono urged to the government to permanently withdraw Indonesian ambassador to Austarlia. "We regret the move by the Australian government whichcan only worsen bilateral relations," said Agung in a speech before the 550-seat legislature in Jakarta on Friday.

Answering questions following a meeting Friday with security and military officials, Hassan said there had been no discussion of cutting diplomatic relations entirely. "We have not yet talked about that," he said. (**)



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