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East Timor Parliament Rejects Australia's Refugee Camp Plan


The Australian government plans to continue talks with East Timor on establishing a refugee processing center there, even though the country's parliament has rejected the idea. Prime Minister Julia Gillard says a regional detention facility would deter asylum seekers from making the often perilous journey by boat to Australia.

Australian officials said Tuesday they are convinced the plan to hold illegal migrants on East Timor while their asylum applications are processed will work.

More than half of East Timor's parliament members, however, on Monday voted for against the idea. All 34 law makers present opposed it. Many said Canberra had not consulted with them about the idea.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith notes, however, that nearly half of East Timor's 65 members of parliament did not take part in the vote.

"Unlike the Australian parliament East Timorese ministers do not sit in the East Timorese parliament," Smith said. "So this is a reflection of those members of the East Timorese parliament present at the time. It is not the government's response."

Government officials say its representatives discussed the idea Monday with members of the East Timor government.

East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta has said he is open to negotiations on the idea, but his country's decision-making power rests with the government, which seems unwilling to agree to Australia's request.

Australia processes most asylum claims on Christmas Island, its remote territory in the Indian Ocean. The facility is overcrowded, and the government has moved some detainees to the mainland while their applications are assessed.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is wants to address a recent influx of boats carrying asylum seekers before a general election expected in the next couple of months. So far this year, more than 75 vessels have been intercepted.

Immigration will play a key part in the election campaign. The conservative opposition accuses the Labor government of losing control of Australia's borders through soft asylum policies, allegations Labor ministers reject.

Australia grants visas to about 13,000 displaced people every year under international re-settlement programs.

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