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Indonesia Stops Ship Carrying Illegal Vietnamese Migrants - 2003-04-25

Indonesian authorities have located one of two ships carrying illegal Vietnamese migrants headed for Australia. The 31 passengers are now in custody, again highlighting the problem of people smuggling, just days ahead of a key regional conference.

An official with the International Organization of Migration says one of two Vietnamese ships in Indonesian waters en-route to Australia has been located and its passengers taken into custody on the island of Batam.

Thirty-one people set sail from Vietnam earlier this month in an effort to reach Australia illegally. They were found on a small island in Indonesia's northern Riau province, where they had put ashore because of engine troubles.

Stephen Cook from the IOM said some of the Vietnamese have already decided to give up their plan to sneak into Australia illegally. "A number of them have indicated that they are prepared to return to Vietnam. And we will be discussing them," he said.

Mr. Cook said it is not the first time some of the migrants now held in Batam have left Vietnam. Sixteen of them once lived in a refugee camp on the Indonesian island of Galang, where nearly a million refugees ended up after fleeing communist-ruled Vietnam. "It's where there was a huge boat-people camp during the boat people days of the late 80's early 90's. And it was a national trauma for Indonesia and they're very nervous about a repeat performance of that situation," he said.

Officials say thousands of people come to Indonesia every year because it is seen as a key transit point for sneaking into Australia illegally. Made up of thousands of islands, Indonesia's borders are difficult to patrol. From here, many risk their lives on dangerous vessels to make the sea voyage to Australian shores.

In the past, the problem of people-smuggling has led to friction between Indonesia and Australia over what should be done to stop the tide of migrants.

The location of the second ship, believed to be carrying 42 Vietnamese is not known. Last week it landed at the city of Banjarmasin on the island of Kalimantan. Officials there gave the ship more fuel and water, and sent them out to sea again.

The reports of the two ships come just ahead of a key meeting to open on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday. Officials will hold the second annual conference dealing with ways stemming the flow of illegal migrants, human trafficking and other trans-national crimes.