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Asylum Seekers Standoff Continues in Australia - 2002-04-23

Authorities in Australia say a tense standoff is continuing between detained asylum seekers armed with homemade weapons and guards at the Curtin detention center in a remote part of the country's northwest. The protest is now into its fourth day. Over the weekend, 300 inmates took over part of the facility following a riot.

Authorities say the majority of the detainees are now cooperating with immigration officials, but a small group of asylum seekers facing deportation from Australia remains defiant.

Many homemade weapons, sharpened broomsticks and knives have been surrendered after hundreds of detainees barricaded themselves in a central part of the camp near the town of Derby in Western Australia Sunday. A number of guards and detainees were injured when violence at the camp flared up Friday.

The Australian government is insisting although the situation is tense it is under control. Acting Immigration Minister Chris Ellison says the authorities won't tolerate further unrest. "Part[s] of the negotiations are that all weapons must be handed over and that, furthermore, those responsible for this unacceptable behavior should also be handed over as well. Our patience is not limitless and we will not see the situation go for any lengthy period of time. If this cannot be resolved peacefully then we will use other means to resolve it," Mr. Ellison said. It's believed those involved in the takeover of part of the remote immigration facility have had their applications for asylum rejected by the Australian government and are awaiting deportation. The authorities claim the ringleaders were also involved in the mass escape from the Woomera camp in South Australia last month before being transferred to Curtin.

A video showing detainees bashing their heads against cell walls inside the Curtin facility has been shown on Australian television. The government says the footage does not show asylum seekers preventing medical staff from entering the facility. The incident is thought to have sparked a riot at Curtin last June.

Australia has adopted a tough immigration policy, detaining anyone arriving in the country without the proper documentation and claiming refugee status. It has defended the mandatory detention of illegal immigrants on health and security grounds. Earlier this month the government announced the camp at Curtin will be closed down as part of sweeping reforms of Australia's immigration facilities.