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Australia Seeks Talks with Indonesia Over 460 Asylum Seekers - 2001-08-30


Australia is seeking top level talks with Indonesia to resolve the ongoing impasse over who will take 460 asylum seekers on a Norwegian freighter stranded in the Indian Ocean. The ship is still stationary off the remote Australian outpost of Christmas Island.

Indonesia is still refusing Australia's request to accept the Norwegian ship, Tampa, or the now 460 mostly Afghan asylum seekers on board.

The Australian Government argues that Indonesia should take responsibility because the asylum seekers were closer to the Indonesian port of Marak than Christmas Island when the Tampa rescued them from their stricken vessel late Sunday.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has told Parliament he hopes to hold direct talks with Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri by telephone to try to resolve the standoff. "We will continue to press another view Mr. Speaker but in the meantime the government will continue to explore other options as well," Howard said.

The Norwegian ship remains just inside Australian territorial waters.

Elite Australian troops boarded the ship late Wednesday after its Captain Arne Rinnan defied an order not to enter Australian waters. The captain said the migrants were in urgent need of medical attention and the situation was out of control.

The troops directed the captain to move the ship back into international waters, but so far he has refused.

Australia's Attorney General Daryl Williams says if the government backs down, confidence in Australia's immigration procedures will be lost. "People who leap on a boat in Indonesia and head for our shores are bypassing that system. They're queue jumping, and in many cases they're not genuine refugees," Williams said.

Australia's Parliament, with the support of the opposition parties, has scuttled government plans for emergency laws which would give legal protection to the government if it forcibly removes the ship to international waters.