Papua asylum threat sparks security upgrade

Greg Roberts and Sian Powell
March 28, 2006

SURVEILLANCE by Australian and Indonesian authorities has been stepped up to deter Papuans from trying to enter the asylum pipeline to Australia and compounding the greatest threat to Jakarta-Canberra relations since East Timor in 1999.

The escalation of Australian air and sea patrols and the placing of Indonesian border troops on high alert came as Jakarta postponed signing an agreement on Australian assistance to fight bird flu.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Welfare Minister said the postponement was linked to the decision last week to issue temporary protection visas to 42 of 43 Papuans who arrived in a boat on Cape York in January.

"The Government has one voice on this," said Lalu Mara Satria Wangsa, saying the $10million agreement would be signed when "diplomatic relations are more conducive" to it.

Indonesia on Friday recalled ambassador to Canberra Hamzah Thayeb, who met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday night. Mr Thayeb then flew to Vanuatu - which has strained relations with Jakarta after allowing Papuan separatists to open a representative office in 2003 - to present his credentials, and was instructed by Dr Yudhoyono to return to Jakarta rather than Canberra. "Maybe he will be there for two days, and after that the President asked him to return to Indonesia to formulate steps and actions to be taken by the Government in response to the Australian attitude," presidential adviser Dino Patti Djalal told the newspaper Kompas.

Customs Minister Chris Ellison made it clear yesterday that Coastwatch's surveillance of waters separating Papua from north Queensland had been boosted. "We are confident the arrangements we have in place will detect any increase in the illegal movement of people should that occur," the minister's spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, Dino Kusnadi, said investigations in the West Papuan capital of Jayapura indicated that claims in The Australian yesterday of an exodus of students towards the PNG border were baseless.

However, one of the students hiding in the jungle since a deadly riot at Jayapura's Cendrawasih University two weeks ago said last night he was heading towards the border, a day's walk away. "I want to continue on to Australia, I want to ask for asylum there because we are being hunted, so we want to ask for protection," Rufinus Omba said.

Indonesian military spokesman Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki said it was possible at least three asylum-seekers had slipped over the border in recent days.

Colonel Basuki said Indonesian troops along the border had been put on a higher alert and the navy was also on alert.

In Jakarta, protesters daubed "Leave Indonesia now" in red paint on the wall of the Australian embassy compound. Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer dismissed protests from Indonesians he described as "the usual suspects".

"A more sober reflection will remind those people in the Indonesian media and activists elsewhere that there is great benefit for Indonesia in this relationship with Australia, it is not just a one-way street," he said.


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