Indon hunts missing PapuansBy Mark Forbes, Indonesian Correspondent
April 6, 2006 - 3:47PM
Indonesian authorities are questioning relatives and friends of several West Papuans believed to have fled the separatist province for Australia.
They are attempting to locate the six missing West Papuans, particularly labour activist Paulus Samkakai, who is rumoured to be part of the group.
Family members and church leaders have been visited by police and military intelligence several times seeking information on his whereabouts.
Reports yesterday suggested the family of six men and women who fled last week were in the Papua New Guinean town of Bula after a boat in which they were travelling ran low on fuel.
Relations between Jakarta and Canberra have been strained since the immigration department last month granted temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from Papua.
Indonesians have been quick to point of the contrast between Australia's attitude to those seeking asylum from the Middle East, who are mainly muslim, to the predominantly christian West Papuans.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on a visit to West Papua, warned foreigners not to support Papuan separatists.
Justice Minister Chris Ellison was unable to confirm whether the group has tried to enter Australia.
He said the family had not been sighted but investigations and surveillance flights were continuing in the Torres Strait area.
"We are carrying on investigations to confirm this and that's where we are at at this stage," Senator Ellison said on Sky News.
"The advice I have from Customs and Coastwatch is that there has been no confirmation of the arrival of these people or their existence.
"Any breach of our borders is serious and the operation is ongoing," he said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd today said Australia must honour its responsibility to deal with any asylum seekers who seek refuge in the country.
But in soothing relations with Jakarta, the government must not allow a repeat of the SIEV-X tragedy, in which 353 asylum seekers died when their overloaded boat bound for Australia sank off Indonesia.
"Australia has fundamental obligations under international law, under the Convention for the Protection of Refugees, when it comes to assisting any person who falls within the categories defined by the convention," Mr Rudd told reporters.
"We need to be ... very mindful indeed of the absolute tragedy of SIEV-X, when we saw a vessel loaded with asylum seekers which was lost at sea with literally hundreds of men, women and children killed.
"It's very important in these difficult circumstances at present that we ensure that no such tragedy occurs again."
theage.com.au, with Jordan Chong and AAP
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