Suspected Papuan refugee boat sinks

By Mark Forbes, Denpasar
April 21, 2006

A BOAT carrying 21 Papuans suspected of being asylum seekers has sunk, with one confirmed dead and 18 missing, Indonesian police say.

Police said yesterday they believed some passengers were student supporters of West Papuan separatism and evidence suggested they planned to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Two passengers were saved by fishermen yesterday morning after the boat was struck by large waves several kilometres north of the West Papuan capital, Jayapura. One dead body was seen, police spokesman Colonel Kartono said.

He said the survivors claimed the boat's destination was Papua New Guinea. Police were still searching for other survivors and conducting an investigation into the motives for the trip.

A "free Papua" flag and pamphlets advocating West Papuan independence were found near where the boat departed, but it was not confirmed if they were linked to the voyage.

The news emerged as Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda indicated he would demand further concessions over the case of 42 Papuans granted asylum in a meeting with Australian Foreign Affairs head Michael L'Estrange today.

Mr Wirajuda said he appreciated that Australia's new, hardline asylum stance, to be detailed by Mr L'Estrange, demonstrated that Canberra had considered Indonesia's sensitivity towards the West Papua issue.

"Adopting a kind of Pacific Solution for new flows of boat people or asylum seekers deals with the future problems, but how do we deal with the existing problem of 42 Indonesians of Papuan origin who have been granted asylum?" Mr Wirajuda said.

The changes did not address the conflict between the granting of asylum and Australia's stated support of Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua.

Mr Wirajuda also said he would discuss with Mr L'Estrange what the Australian Government would do to suppress support for West Papuan independence.

"The existence of elements within Australian society, be it groups, organisations or individuals, who support independence or separatist movements in Papua, this is our issue," he said.

Mr Wirajuda said decisions on returning Indonesia's recalled ambassador and a review of co-operation with Australia could only be made after today's meeting in Jakarta.

Mr L'Estrange will also meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's adviser, Dino Djalal, paving the way for follow-up visits by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

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