Don't seek asylum, says PM

By Patrick Walters and Stephen Fitzpatrick

JOHN Howard has delivered a blunt message to people from Indonesia's eastern-most province: don't look to Australia for political asylum.

The Prime Minister said yesterday it was a "good thing" for bilateral relations with Jakarta that six Papuan asylum-seekers now appeared to have landed in Papua New Guinea rather than on Australian territory.

Speaking on Perth radio, Mr Howard stressed Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ability to democratically work through the country's domestic problems.

He also went out of his way to differentiate the history of Papua from that of East Timor, pointing to the 1969 referendum that resulted in Papua becoming part of Indonesia.

"I would say to people in West Papua and I would say to any people in Australia working with them, any who may be encouraging them to come to Australia, that that is not something the Australian Government or, I believe, the majority of the Australian public wants."

"We regard West Papua as part of Indonesia. We regard West Papuans as citizens of the republic of Indonesia and will not support any kind of independence movement."

While Greens leader Bob Brown said Mr Howard's comments had sold out the rights of indigenous Papuans to self-determination, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley called for the Government to work harder to convince Jakarta that Australia was not trying to undermine its security by offering visas to some boat people.

Australian Customs officials said yesterday they still had no word on the whereabouts of the family of six Papuans who left Merauke by boat last week intent on travelling to Australia.

But a Papuan fisherman, hired by would-be asylum-seeker Paulus Samkakai to take him and his family into the Torres Strait, said he believed they would have reached Australian territory by now.

Catholic priest Yus Felix Mawengkang said the driver had deliberately pretended not to know his way to Bamboo Island in the Torres Strait - where Samkakai had asked to be taken - because he feared he would not have enough petrol to return to Papua New Guinea. Instead he brought the family back to the PNG village of Bula.

"Bula has a lot of fishermen who go to Bamboo; Paulus said when they were in Bula that the following day he was going to find someone to take them there, so the boat driver is certain they're already there," the priest said.

Bula is one of 13 PNG villages whose people are free to travel to Torres Strait islands to trade.

Additional reporting: Ian Gerard


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