Military's refugee hunt

Adelaide Advertiser

THE Howard Government will use submarines, warships, spy planes and top-secret radar and satellites to stop West Papuan refugees from reaching Australia.

In a multi-agency strategy, the military will work with Customs, Coastwatch and Fisheries to target illegal fishermen as well as would-be refugees.

The massive new surveillance effort will be led by Customs vessels diverted from drug interdiction operations in southern Australia and RAAF P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Navy patrol boats will relieve Customs vessels on drugs watch.

The Orions will operate from the RAAF base at Darwin airport and will mount round-the-clock patrols of the waters between West Papua and Australia.

The four-engine aircraft can spend up to 12 hours in the air and cover thousands of square kilometres of ocean, and are regarded as the most effective weapon against wooden vessels in the open sea.

"We will pick up anything illegal," a government source said.

The surveillance effort will cost tens of millions of dollars and will run indefinitely.

It is the key element of a healing strategy with Indonesia after 42 West Papuans, who arrived in Cape York in January, were granted refugee status.

That move angered Jakarta amid fears of a repeat of the 1999 Australian-led East Timor separation from Indonesia. The boats and planes will be supported by Darwin-based navy patrol boats and larger warships, including frigates, that will be diverted to the West Papua border area from exercises and en-route to operational deployments.

Collins class submarines will use top-secret surveillance capabilities to hunt refugee boats and poachers in waters off the West Papuan coast. The final element of the new strategy will be joint patrols with the Indonesian navy.

The Government is also under pressure from fishermen and environmentalists over the plundering of northern waters by illegal Indonesian fishermen.

Some local fishermen have threatened to ignore this year's closed season because of the boom in poaching.

The Indonesian Government mostly ignores illegal fishing and in the wake of the West Papuan crisis, has threatened to re-open its sea lanes to people smugglers.


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