Patrols seek Papuan boat as Indonesia issues warning

Reporter: Greg Jennett
5 April 2006

TONY JONES: No-one has found them yet, but the mere suspicion that another boatload of Papuan asylum seekers has landed in Australia has further unsettled relations with Indonesia. Air and sea patrols are continuing in the Torres Strait to find the boat. And as the Howard Government prepares for the possibility of more asylum claims, Indonesia's President has sounded a clear warning to all foreigners to stay out of his nation's problems with Papua. From Canberra, Greg Jennett reports.

GREG JENNETT: A joint Customs and Navy operation to catch illegal boats across Australia's north has apparently been a raging success: 23 boats seized, 197 crewman captured.

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON, CUSTOMS MINISTER: It's understood the vast majority were from Indonesia.

BRENDAN NELSON, DEFENCE MINISTER: If they're trying to get to Australia unlawfully, we will do everything we can to detect and intercept them.

GREG JENNETT: But one boat may have slipped through the net. Intelligence received by the Government leads it to believe a family of six from the Indonesian province of Papua fled its home in Merauke last week, washing up yesterday, on or around Deliverance Island in the Torres Strait.

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON: Any illegal entrant to Australia is of concern to the Government and, of course, West Papuans are no different to anyone else.

GREG JENNETT: It's not that simple. Coming so soon after the approval of asylum claims by 42 Papuans, protection claims by another group would only deepen the diplomatic row between neighbours.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Clearly this has caused or created a strain in the relationship, but I don't regard it as, in any way, a fatal strain.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESMAN: There's a grave danger that we begin to see the Australian-Indonesian relationship spiral out of control.

GREG JENNETT: John Howard has signalled his intention to call President Yudhoyono, who today visited Papua, engaging in some megaphone diplomacy. In comments most likely directed at Canberra, the President reportedly told Indonesian journalists, "The problem in Papua is an internal problem of our country. We do not want outsiders, from wherever they come, to interfere in our internal affairs."

DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR, FORMER INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT ADVISOR: There is a genuine nervousness about Australia's involvement again in the issue of Papua.

GREG JENNETT: Dewi Fortuna Anwar says Indonesia's perception of Australian sympathies for Papuan independence stems directly from this country's role in East Timor.

DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: To lose Papua, for Indonesia, is like losing its own limb.

GREG JENNETT: Aware of those sensitivities and the possibility that more boats could arrive at any time, John Howard and senior ministers are redoubling their efforts to soothe Jakarta's fears.

INTERVIEWER: Is West Papua East Timor all over again?



PETER COSTELLO: Because West Papua has always been part of Indonesia.

JOHN HOWARD: I have a very strong view that the best resolution of these issues is within the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia over West Papua.

GREG JENNETT: And he says Indonesia's relationship with Australia is strong enough to survive. Greg Jennett, Lateline.


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