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Australia, Indonesia Discuss People Smuggling

Australia and Indonesia have pledged to cooperate in solving the growing problem of people smuggling between their countries. The agreement comes as Indonesia's foreign minister visits Canberra for talks with Australian officials.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, agreed Wednesday to work together in dealing with the flow of illegal immigrants from Indonesia to Australia.

But both countries say bilateral agreements are not enough and that an international solution to the problem is needed. Mr. Wirajuda says Indonesia is committed to hosting an international conference on migration next year.

Every year thousands of asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan and the Middle East, pay people smugglers in Indonesia to take them on the often perilous boat journey to Australia.

The Australian government has adopted a tough policy against asylum seekers after preventing some 300 migrants who were rescued from a sinking boat from setting foot in the country in August. Indonesia also refused to take in the asylum seekers and instead, Canberra sent them to New Zealand and Nauru.

People smuggling is the latest issue to strain ties between Jakarta and Canberra. Relations between the neighboring countries dived in 1999 after Australia led an international peacekeeping force in East Timor, after its vote for independence from Indonesia. Mr. Wirajuda's trip is the first by an Indonesian minister to Australia since President Megawati Sukarnoputri took power in July.

Australia's detention camps for asylum seekers are drawing attention along with its new hard-line policy. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says it is increasingly concerned about the treatment of children in the centers and is to undertake a national inquiry.

It will examine whether Australia meets its international obligations and whether the rights of the children are being abused.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says the welfare of migrant children has always been a high priority and insists the government will cooperate with the independent investigators. But Mr. Ruddock questioned the usefulness of the inquiry, the fourth investigation of the detention centers in 18 months.

The Human Rights Commissioner hopes to report to Australia's Federal Parliament by the end of next year.