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Australia, Indonesia boost anti-smuggling efforts

July 3, 2012

SYDNEY: Australia and Indonesia today agreed to work more closely to crack down on people-smuggling, with visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono saying his people were also victims of the trade.

Talks between Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin have focused on the issue of boatpeople coming to Australia, mostly via transit ports in Indonesia, after scores drowned en route in recent weeks.

“In the field of preventing or combating people-smuggling and also human trafficking we have agreed to enhance greater cooperation,” Yudhoyono told reporters.

“Indonesia is also a victim of the acts of illegal people smuggling. We hope that we can prevent, as far as possible, the act of people-smuggling in our region.”

Dozens of people died last month when two crowded asylum-seeker boats sank off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island, near Indonesia’s Java.

Rescuers saved 110 people after a boat sank on June 21 but an estimated 90 mostly Afghan men drowned, raising questions about Indonesia’s capacity to handle mass rescues at sea.

Days later 130 were rescued by a passing commercial vessel that spotted a crowded wooden boat riding low in the water before it sank, killing at least four people.

Gillard said Australia and Indonesia already cooperated strongly to deter boatpeople from making the voyage and would step up maritime assistance to prevent further deaths at sea.

“Australia will work with Indonesia’s search and rescue agency to help strengthen its ability to communicate with merchant vessels during safety of life at sea incidents,” she said.

Yudhoyono also welcomed the release of some underage Indonesian nationals held in Australian jails after being detained as crew on people-smuggling vessels.

“They are also victims of acts of people-smuggling and no doubt we hope that the release of the remaining underage seafarers can be accelerated,” he said through an interpreter.

Some 5,242 boatpeople have arrived in Australia so far in 2012, many from Afghanistan and Iran, and parliament last week failed to pass a law to allow them to be transferred to Malaysia — a plan the government hoped would deter refugees from making the dangerous voyage Down Under.

The broad-ranging talks between Gillard and Yudhoyono at the second annual Indonesia-Australia Leaders’ Meeting also covered growing trade and security links between the neighbours.

It follows the unveiling of a major expansion in defence ties between Australia and the US, with some 2,500 Marines to be based in the nation’s north by 2016-17.

Announced by US President Barack Obama during a visit to Australia in late 2011 and seen as a pivot of US forces to the Asia-Pacific, the plan rankled China and was initially received coolly by Indonesia.

But the current talks, which have included high-ranking ministers from both sides, have acknowledged Indonesia’s increasing strategic importance, with Defence Minister Stephen Smith saying joint military exercises were being planned.

“It’s not just the rise of China,” Smith told the Australian Financial Review. “It’s the rise of India, it’s the rise of Asian nations.

“And it is the ongoing economic strength of Japan, the Republic of Korea and the emergence of Indonesia as an international or global influence, not just a regional influence.”

In a joint communique, the leaders later said they would also encourage Australian companies to invest in the Indonesian beef and cattle industry, after the live cattle trade was temporarily suspended over cruelty concerns, testing ties.



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