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Australia, Indonesia Increase Cooperation on Boat People Issue

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The Indonesian navy intercepted a boat carrying refugees headed to Australia after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd telephoned the Indonesian president. Political analysts say the phone call is a further sign of increased cooperation between the Asia-Pacific neighbors on fighting human trafficking.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's conversation with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came after a boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers had set sail for Australia.

Mr. Rudd's call resulted in Indonesian authorities intercepting the vessel, which was carrying 260 people, including women and children.

The prime minister contacted President Yudhoyono after intelligence agents learned that the vessel was trying to reach Australian waters. Soon after, Australia's military started working with the Indonesian navy to pinpoint the location of the boat, which was found off Krakatoa. Australian officials think the Indonesians then escorted the boat to West Java.

Mr. Rudd says Jakarta is a key ally in Australia's attempts to curb illegal migration.

"I make no apology whatsoever for working as closely as I need with our Indonesian friends and partners to get the results we all need in terms of illegal immigration," Rudd said.

Regional political analysts say the cooperation between Canberra and Jakarta could help stem a steady flow of refugees ferried by traffickers into Australian waters. Several boats have been intercepted in recent months.

Australia blames the recent rise in refugees on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, along with the global economic crisis. The refugees pay thousands of dollars to make the dangerous journey by sea from Indonesia to Australia.

Many of those seeking sanctuary in Australia are taken to a camp on Christmas Island, where their asylum applications are assessed. The vast majority are deemed to be genuine refugees.

Former members of Australia's previous conservative government say that Mr. Rudd's decision to relax parts of the country's asylum policies has encouraged more boat people to make the journey from Indonesia.

A former immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, says a new wave of illegal arrivals could soon attempt to make the treacherous crossing from Indonesia to Australia.

In response, the Rudd government says it is fully committed to strict border control measures.

Australia resettles about 13,000 refugees each year under official humanitarian programs.